Food Experiences

Experiencing Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago

I’m a self proclaimed pizza snob from NY. To me, the perfect crust is thin and crispy. The ratio of cheese to sauce needs to be just right. To eat a slice of pizza right you should be able to fold it in half and hold it in your hand. So you can imagine my hesitation at accepting deep dish pizza when Dane and I went on our recent trip to Chicago with our friends Sam and Jason. Dane was really excited to try two legendary deep dish places and so I went along with it, still emphasizing my belief that NY is the best when it comes to pizza.

First up was Lou Malnati’s. Lou Malnati opened his first location back in 1971 and is probably one of the best known names in deep dish pizza. There are now 34 locations in and around Chicago and the business is still family owned and operated. This was our first stop after getting to Chicago. We checked into our hotel, dropped off our things, and headed right back out to one of the locations that was only a few blocks from our hotel (which Dane had mapped out ahead of time).

We decided to go with one pizza to share between the four of us. We got some appetizers too, which we realized were really not needed once we saw our pizza come out. We ordered the Malnati Chicago Classic which had sausage, extra cheese, and sauce on their Buttercrust.

This was the densest, cheesiest, sausagiest (I had to make up a word to describe it) pizza I had ever tried. The waitress had an art to serving the pizza to get the cheese from oozing out too much.

Safe to say Jason liked it.

The sauce was a little chunky so you got bigger pieces of tomato like a hearty marinara. Fork and knife were very necessary but the crust was surprisingly crisp. I couldn’t do more than one slice, but it was very good. Thumbs up Lou Malnati’s!

On our third day in Chicago our stomachs had recovered from our first foray into deep dish and decided to try Giordano’s. Dane had this one mapped out too, so he knew just where to go and we headed there for lunch. Giordano’s was started by two brothers in 1974. Now they have 43 locations in and around Chicago and also in Florida.

Look at that cheese action! Again our waitress was obviously practiced in cutting and serving the pizza with all of it’s gooey cheesiness.

This time we went with just a regular cheese deep dish pizza. Giordano’s pizza has a double crust so they layers go (from bottom to top): crust, cheese (A LOT OF CHEESE), more crust, sauce.

I absolutely loved this pizza. I liked the sauce more and the ratio of cheese to sauce was better for me here than at Lou Malnati’s. Lou Malnati’s did win for me in the crust category though. I thought it was more flavorful and crispier there. Overall, the votes for our favorite were:

Me: Giordano’s
Dane: Giordano’s
Sam: Giordano’s
Jason: Giordano’s

Giordano’s unanimously wins with this group! We really enjoyed both places, but when you get the chance to try two very well-known deep dish pizza restaurants you just can’t help but pick a favorite. And for the record, even as a thin crust loving New Yorker at heart, I liked real Chicago style deep dish pizza. It’s a totally different food experience, but one that was worth having!

Surly Brewery, Minnesota

While in Minneapolis, Sam and Jason took me to an awesome brewery – Surly Brewing Co. Tours are only offered Friday and Saturdays, and they fill up really quickly. Sam signed up a month before I went to visit and had to wait a while for confirmation, so I was really excited when Sam told me we got a spot. I love visiting breweries and hearing their story. And trying the beer, obviously.

Just the name of the brewery should tell you it’s different. The founder, Omar, started homebrewing after getting a homebrew kit as a gift. After brewing some batches and getting great feedback from friends he started to get more serious. Omar enrolled in America’s Brewers Guild and completed his apprenticeship at New Holland brewing in Michigan. A brewery was purchased, head brewer recruited (Todd, who had actually gone to junior high with Omar and ran into him at a conference), renovations made, and by the end 2005 Surly Brewing Co. was up and running. (read the full story of how the brewery was founded on the Surly website)

Tours are free, but the brewery asks participants to bring a food donation which supports a local charity, the Emergency Foodshelf Network. We got there, gave our donations, and got some drink tokens in exchange. As if drinking beer could be better, we got to support a worthy cause as well.

There were obviously plenty of tokens to go around and try quite a few different brews. On tap that night was Furious, CynicAle, Bender, and Hell. Best beer names ever. We each started off with a beer (I went with Hell for my first, their summer seasonal) and went into the brewery.

This is our tour guide, Clint. And he started off the tour with “Hey guys, my name is Clint, but you can all call me Ginger Bear.” And I loved him.

Clint gave us the story of Surly, showed us this contraption…

… which is what Omar first used to start doing test batches, and told us about some of the things that make Surly different. Unlike many craft breweries, Surly cans all their beer. But when they started, they wanted to be able to serve a proper pint to their customers, which lead them to create a new can to hold more. Surly Brewing and Surly fans also had a huge hand in getting a bill passed into law MN, which has become known as the Surly Bill. More about that here if you’re interested.

Surly cans make a nice backdrop for photos too. So many uses.

Throughout all of this we were free to go get more beer from the tasting room. Which we did. Frequently. And got through all the beers available on tap.

Then we switched over to the brewing process.

We got the full run through of how Surly brews their different varieties, asked questions, and heard about “5″ – a limited release brewed in honor of the brewery’s 5 year anniversary. We mentally noted to stop by a store on the way home to try and find some.

Visiting the brewery was a really fun experience. I love seeing different breweries and hearing how they came to be. Each has an interesting story to tell with some passionate people behind the beer. Surly was no exception.

The beers were really good. CynicAle was my favorite of all that I tried that day. It was light, perfect for late summer, and slightly fruity. I had a few of those… and all of them were delicious.

If you’re in the MN area, check out Surly!


Minnesota State Fair Part II: Fair Food and Fun

With all the foods on sticks we ate, it’s kind of hard to believe we had enough room in our stomachs to have anything else. But somehow we did. I think we had a pretty good strategy with choosing those foods we would share, thereby saving stomach room for those things we just couldn’t pass up to eat on our own.

Since my birthday was the first day of the fair, I jokingly said to Sam at one point that I want to eat the fried pickles with birthday candles in them. She didn’t forget this and actually brought birthday candles and matches, put them in my fried pickles, and together Sam and Jason wished me a happy birthday.

I think people passing by were slightly confused by this, but it was probably the best birthday treat I ever had. These were the regular fried pickles, but I also had some of Sam’s which had cream cheese sandwiched in between two pickles, then each little sandwich is battered and deep fried. SO GOOD.

In the Agriculture building there was a section devoted to Minnesota wineries. I had no idea there were any wineries in MN, but we had to try some, so we ended up with this sampler of 6 kinds of wine. Obviously in a MN shaped holder.

Wines were:
1 - Potter John’s White from Falconer Vineyards
2 - Sippin from a Slipper from Glacier Ridge Vineyards
3 - The Wine-ing Farmer’s Wife from Fieldstone Vineyards
4 - Frontenac Gris from Parley Lake Winery
5 - Prairie Smoke from Northern Vineyards
12 - Raspberry Wine from WineHave Vineyards

You were able to pick the 6 wines you wanted to try with this sampler out of 13 different varieties. I just picked all the whites – there were five – and then a fun one for the sixth choice. It was really hot, so we went with the lighter varieties. The Frontenac Gris and The Wine-ing Farmer’s Wife were my favorites. I don’t like really sweet wines, so they were a little drier. The Raspberry Wine was super sweet, but fun to try because it was different than all the others.

It wouldn’t be a State Fair without giant vegetables. Here’s the 1st place pumpkin from this past year.

Then in the Dairy Building there was butter bust sculpting. Artist Linda Christensen sculpted 12 busts, one for each of the 11 Minnesota Dairy Princess of that year and 1 for Princess Kay of the Milky Way (title awarded to the winner of the MN Dairy Princess competition). Each bust starts with a 90 pound block of butter that takes hours to carve. One bust is created each day for the duration of the 12 day fair.

I had my first experience with fried cheese curds at the fair. Definitely a once in a while kind of food. So yummy. And so not good for you.

Then there was the MN State Fair legend, Sweet Martha’s. This booth has been at the fair for 25 years, and operates only out of the fair. Pretty impressive. They now have cookie dough you can purchase at the grocery store as well, but it’s amazing the business they do during this 12 day period each year. We got a bucket that was overflowing with 4 dozen chocolate chip cookies. After we just could not eat any more, we saved some and had them for breakfast the next morning.

My favorite picture, taken by Jason.

The fair overall was so much fun, so here are some highlights:

Pictures above clockwise from top left: Ducklings, just a few days old, in the birthing barn. Me with a cow that was walking down the street. Princess Kay of the Milky Way finished butter bust. Me and a giant pickle on the side of the fried pickle stand. Cheese curds sign in the food building. Jason and I supporting MN turkey by being some. Giant Sing Along that played every day, it was surrounded by groupings of microphones so you could just jump on and sing with everyone. Jason playing Wheel of Fortune in one of the arcades – he got a tootsie roll and a green crayoned shaped eraser with his ticket winnings.

Thanks to my awesome friends for taking me to the fair two days in a row when I visited! That about covers the fair, but more posts from my Minnesota trip are coming up!

Minnesota State Fair Part I: Food on a Stick

For my birthday a few weeks ago I went out to Minneapolis to visit my amazing friends, Sam and Jason, and their awesome pup Everett. One of my goals for this year was to get to the Minnesota State Fair, and it just so happened that the first day of the 12 day fair was on my birthday. Right after they picked me up from the airport, we were off to the fair.

I ate way too much delicious food to write about in just one post, so first up is foods on a stick. A major theme of the fair food was just about anything “on a stick”. You name it. Pickles, fruit, nuts, desserts, fried things, and even mashed potatoes. I feel pretty confident most foods taste better when they’re on a stick.

Pronto Pups were up first, hot dogs which are battered and fried. Similar to corn dogs, but the batter is totally different. I’m not a huge fan of corn dogs, so I wasn’t sure if I’d love these, but Pronto Pups definitely made me happy. There were 8 different Pronto Pup stands throughout the fair because it’s so big. No matter what section of the fair you were in, you were bound to be pretty close to a Pronto Pup stand.

Fudge Puppies are another fair favorite. Belgian waffles on a stick, coated in chocolate and topped with whipped cream and sprinkles. Granny’s Kitchen Fudge Puppies has been around for 21 years. We hit the stand at just the right time, when the line wasn’t bad at all. This was definitely a popular one and the line was crazy a few times when we passed by.

Big Fat Bacon, 1/4 pound of maple glazed bacon that’s seasoned and served on a stick. Probably the most unexpected thing I found on a stick at the fair. But one of the most delicious, if you could just put out of your mind that you’re eating a hunk of bacon that’s probably close to a billion calories. The things I do for my tastebuds.

Then we lightened it up a bit with chocolate covered fruit on a stick. It was smothered in chocolate, so not really healthy, but after Big Fat Bacon it did make me feel slightly better.

Totally milking the “on a stick” thing in the Agriculture building. No joke. Things on sticks were everywhere.

Jason just had to get a Nut Roll on a stick. Peanuts + Chocolate + Stick. He obviously enjoyed it.

And why not a pickle on a stick while we’re at it? It was actually kind of refreshing after all the fried food we had been eating. My stomach was beyond confused at this point.

And last, but certainly not least, beer on a stick! Summit Brewery, a local brewery near Minneapolis, had a sampler served on a stick. Had some Extra Pale Ale, Horizon Red Ale, and Oktoberfest and loved that I could just carry it around as I wanted on a stick. Best idea ever Summit.

Crazy enough, this was not even close to everything we ate and experienced at the fair so Part II will be coming in the next few days to highlight some more fair food. Two days at the fair definitely meant some major eating and drinking! More to come!

Boston Pie Experiment Recap

A few weekends ago Dane and I competed in our first ever cook-off competition with the Boston Pie Experiment, hosted by the Food Experiments. We had no idea what to expect, but prepared enough food for about 300 samples, picked our team name, and got ready for the big day! Our recipe was Chicken and Beer Pot Pie – a variation on our regular Chicken Pot Pie Recipe that uses half beer and half chicken stock, instead of the full amount of stock. We upped it a notch by also marinating our chicken in beer. Obviously we used Brooklyn Lager, since the event is sponsored by Brooklyn Brewery.

We cooked for about 8 hours straight the day before the event preparing our pie filling and making the pie crust so it would be ready to bake on Sunday morning.

Anyone that knows us can tell you we are a little nerdy (in a good way, at least I like to think so). The Boston leg of the Food Experiments was focused on pie and Dane came up with our team name: Pie 2-D2. And we were actually one of two Star Wars inspired teams.

We went all out with t-shirts, signs, and even brought along our Star Wars picture we had taken two years ago when we visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Yes, that’s Dane and I superimposed on Han Solo and Princess Leia.

When we arrived we got our table and started setting up. We had about an hour to heat our pie filling and start making our samples. Everyone got straight to work on heating or setting up their recipes.

Right at 12pm the doors opened and we were flooded with people coming to taste all the different entries. We also started to get called up team by team to present our food to the panel of three judges: Eunice Feller, Chef & Owner, Bread & Chocolate, Paul Schiavone, CEO & Creative Director of, and Gerry Tice, Executive Chef at Parker’s Restaurant at the Omni Parker House. I brought three samples on stage and introduced our recipe and had time to answer any questions from the judges. I was nervous about the event, but mostly this part since I had no experience with this sort of thing. Luckily we were about the 4th team to present so I didn’t have to be nervous for very long.  And the judges were lovely, nothing to actually be worried about.

Then for about 2 hours we served our samples. Non-stop. It was awesome to talk to so many people and get such great feedback on our entry. People seemed to enjoy it and we were just happy we got to participate. Our friends Greg and Brittany came out to support us too! They said it was close, but in the end we did end up getting both of their votes. Those two are tough to please (and by tough to please I mean they are our friends and we fed them chicken and beer pot pie – can’t get much better).

At the end of the time, they announced the winners of the Judges Choice and Audience Choice. It was awesome to see these home cooks get some recognition! And the winning team could not have been more excited. They had the best reaction ever. Congrats to Gee One Point Four for their winning Pissaladière!

I was happy to just be in the company of all these fun people who brought their love of cooking out for the afternoon. Yes, I’m taking pictures of the crowd from the stage. Never thought I’d be up on a stage at a cook-off competition.

I hope the Food Experiments bring the tour around again next year. Now with one competition under our belt, who knows? Maybe there will be more in our future.

Thanks to Nick and Theo, founders of the Food Experiments and congratulations to all the competitors and winners!

Pie Experiment: Boston – Coming Up!

A few weeks ago I got an email from Theo and Nick of The Food Experiments letting me know about their current tour and upcoming amateur pie-bake off. I was intrigued, not knowing anything about The Food Experiments, so I started reading to learn a bit more.

Little bit about The Food Experiments (from the press release):
The Food Experiments stands out in New York City’s cook-off circuit for attracting the most committed, passionate, and daring competitors. The series is the brainchild of two of the most competitive cooks to grace the cook-off scene, Nick Suarez and Theo Peck. After continually facing each other on the winner’s podium, the once-rivals joined forces to create a cook-off that they would be excited to enter. With the sponsorship of Brooklyn Brewery, they are now bringing the fervor of the Food Experiments to cities across the nation.

I thought it’d be really fun to attend at first, but then decided to give myself a little more of a challenge and join the competition! Pie entries are going to be savory, sweet, and experimental. I didn’t even hesitate to decide which of my recipes I would want to enter and will be making Chicken and Beer Pot Pie.

Now I am confirmed to compete, with Dane at my side as my assistant. I have to prepare about 250 samples, present to judges, and get people excited about our team. I have to admit, I’m a little bit nervous! There’s a first time for everything, but yikes! 250 samples? Judges? What did I sign myself up for?

Anyone out there have any advice for a first time cook-off competitor? Wish me luck!

Click the logo below for more information about the Boston event and to get tickets if you’d like to come taste all the entries!

Sugar on Snow in Vermont

Right before Christmas, Dane and I went up to Vermont to visit with Sam and Jason and their families. There’s always something to do or a new Vermonty thing to try (yes, Vermonty – it’s a word now). We’re always open to trying things, even though we’re the “city friends”.

When we first met Sam and Jason a few years ago, they told us about sugar on snow, and we’ve wanted to try it ever since. We finally got our chance! After heating maple syrup, you pour it over packed snow, which cools it and creates a soft candy consistency. There was plenty of snow up in VT, and obviously plenty of maple syrup.

Sam started with heating the maple syrup.

You should heat it slowly, because I learned that once it boils the maple syrup begins to bubble up really fast and can boil over. Learned that the hard way. Scared me when it started growing uncontrollably and I had to yank it off the burner.

Then she went outside and got some snow and packed it into a pan.

I was told you could use a candy thermometer for the syrup to watch when it gets to the right temperature. But, that’s not what Sam’s family does. Instead she takes a cold cup of water, and drops a little bit of the syrup into it. When the syrup blob hardens and sinks to the bottom, you’re ready to pour it over the snow. If you’re wondering about the temperature, I looked it up and you have to heat the syrup to 255 Fahrenheit.

Then pour it over the snow!

The maple syrup starts to harden as soon as it hits the cold snow, turning it into a soft candy texture.

Now take a fork to pull up the syrup and twirl it around like so. Jason will demonstrate.

The snow and cold was really fun to eat with the warm and gooey maple syrup. It gave it a really fun texture and the temperature difference was fun to eat together.

I learned that some places also call this Maple Taffy, and it seems pretty obvious why. The syrup becomes a taffy-like texture, complete with the stretch of taffy.

We are so happy we finally got to try this Vermonty treat! Thanks to Sam’s mom for making this for us and having us as guests again. We are pretty easy to make happy, and this was definitely a great way to do just that!

Traveling Ice Cream from PA

Dane and I went to visit Penn State for a football game a few weeks ago. Although PSU lost, we still had success with our visit to the Berkey Creamery on campus.

The Berkey Creamery is part of the Agricultural Science department at Penn State, and the creamery store is famous for its ice cream. The creamery was first established in 1865, and today produces milk, sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and more for campus dining halls and for sale. It’s a really amazing facility and things are produced on site from raising the cows to the finished product.

We stopped in around 10am, perfect time for some ice cream, and chose our flavors. This time around we went with Apple Cobbler Crunch and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. With at least an 8 hour drive ahead of us, we found they could pack the ice cream for travel.

They asked how long we’d be traveling and they got us all set up with a travel bag and blocks of dry ice.

The toughest part of what ended up being a 10 hour trip back to Boston was knowing there was ice cream right in the back seat and not being able to eat it. As soon as we got back, we had to figure out how to get rid of the dry ice. We thought we’d just put it in the sink and run water over it until it was gone.

Then our sink overflowed with the mist from the dry ice. And it stayed that way for about 2 hours. The dry ice definitely kept our ice cream frozen over the 10 hour trip, and there was obviously plenty left when we got home. Dane had a ton of fun with it and kept running the water so that the cloud would go over the sink and down onto the floor.

The trip was so completely worth it. The ice cream was delicious and the dry ice provided us with a few hours of entertainment. If you’re ever in Happy Valley, be sure to visit the creamery!

Infinium Toast at the Sam Adams Boston Brewery

A few weeks ago an email came from Sam Adams announcing the Infinium Toast event at their Boston Brewery. I signed up immediately. Dane and I have been to the brewery countless times, and are big Sam fans. A new beer that’s a collaborative effort with Germany’s oldest brewery? We were in. No brainer.

Infinium is an ale brewed as a collaboration between Samuel Adams and Weihenstephan. It’s very different from your regular beer, from the 750 ml corked bottle, to the sweet malty flavor.

When we got to the tasting, we got right down to it for our first glass. Everyone was given a fun Infinium glass for the tasting, along with a card good for 2 glasses of Infinium and 3 samples of any other Sam Adams beer on tap at the brewery.

I was surprised by the flavor. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was sweeter than I had imagined. Infinium was light and crisp, with a great finish.

We met up with Rebecca and Julie, who I’m working with on Girls’ Pint Out. Rebecca is the fearleass leader of the Boston Girls’ Pint Out chapter, and it was a blast to hang out with them. For research purposes, of course.

Jim Koch, founder of Sam Adams, was at the event, and gave us the story of how Infinium came to be. He was great, and it was really cool to see the founder at the Boston brewery.

We had a perfect spot right next to where Jim gave his toast. Which meant I had the perfect spot to ambush Jim when he walked down to get a picture. He was really nice about it, and stopped to chat for a few minutes about how amazed he was that everyone had come out for the launch.

The Infinium Toast was a blast. Infinium retails across the country at a suggested price of $19.99 a bottle (though I recently saw it selling for $30 at a liquor store near us). Pop the cork and give it a try!

And then I fed a lemur an ice cream cone…

OK, this post is only vaguely food related, but I needed to share this. I got to cross off an item from my Bucket List that wasn’t actually even on my Bucket List because really, who would even think of this?

At a conference I met two volunteers with an animal rescue and conservation organization. They actually brought in different animals during the conference, and I just couldn’t stay away. Of course I struck up a conversation with them the first time I visited their booth, then kept coming back.

At one point I went over eating an ice cream cone and they brought out Felix the ring tailed lemur so I could meet him (since I had already met the owl and the lynx). Ed told me to save part of my ice cream cone, because apparently Felix really likes ice cream and sugar cones.

Then this happened.

Seriously. I fed a lemur an ice cream cone. That is definitely something I never thought I would be able to say. And he loved it!

Lemurs and ice cream. Enough said.

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