Jim’s Cheesesteaks, Philadelphia

When Dane and I were in Philly at the end of September we (finally!) made it to Jim’s Cheesesteaks. Since Dane is from Philly, I was surprised he hadn’t tried all of the best known cheesesteak places in town. Somehow, Jim’s slipped past him. At least I got the bonus of being there for our first try together.

Jim’s has been around for over 70 years at it’s original South Street location in Center City. Now it’s expanded to four locations in and around Philly. All have the original signature cheesesteaks. While we stayed with Dane’s sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, they were kind enough to make sure we got the experience. We went to the newest location, in Springfield (actually it’s over 10 years old now, but still it’s the newest of the four locations).

Jim’s has this art deco thing going on (which I read is similar for all their locations). Just a grab your food, sit, and enjoy kind of place. Which is exactly what we did.

The sandwiches were huge. There was a lot to love about it. Everything about it was perfect. I went with provolone on mine, but there was a choice of cheeses. It was a juicy, cheesy mess of goodness.

Adults love it. And kids do too! Best to get them started on a love of cheesesteaks early in life.

It’s such a nice treat to have an actual cheesesteak from Philly. Up in Boston there are a ton of places that claim to have the best steak and cheese subs, but it’s never quite the same as a cheesesteak.  You have to go straight to the source for the real thing.

If you’re visiting Philly, head down to Jim’s! And while you’re at it, you should probably hit up three of four cheesesteak places. For research purposes, you know? Enjoy!

Our Annual Apple Picking Trip

Since about 4 years ago Dane and I have enjoyed an apple picking trip at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in Stow, MA. This year was no exception and we were joined by my co-worker Carlton and his lovely fiance Felicia for a day of apple picking, apple cider donuts, and hayrides.

Normally we get a nice, crisp, slightly chilly fall day. Not this year. It was about 78 degrees with 90% humidity making it sweltering outside. I wore shorts and a tank top, which was definitely a first for me on an apple picking trip. Usually I have layers so I can add things as I go throughout the day.

I’m an apple perfectionist. Constantly on the hunt for the perfect, ripest, reddest apples I can find in the orchard. We had 4 bags of apples to fill (8 if you include Carlton and Felicia’s too), so I had my work cut out for me.

I trained Dane well. He’s become a great apple inspector.

And he has a good eye for the perfect apples at the top of the trees. Between the two of us we made short work of our 4 bags.

Come on, look at that apple. Shiny, red, and delicious. We really are an awesome apple picking team.

After we pretty much finished picking, the four of us headed over to the farm store for cider donuts, apple cider and caramel apples. Well, the caramel apple was only for me. I just can’t help myself in the fall. Caramel apples call to me.

Carlton and Felicia had no problem getting their bags filled up quickly too.  After our donuts and cider we have the energy to venture on a hayride over to the pear area. It was only a row or two, much less than the apples, and people had definitely picked the pears over. We did manage to find some good ones near the tops of the trees, which I climbed to make sure we got our choice.

We made the best of the heat and all our climbing during the day. We did go in late September, which is earlier than we normally would, but did not expect such a warm day. It felt amazing to turn on the a/c in the car when we got on the road home.

And at the end of the day we had a huge haul of apples and pears. Enough for plenty of pie and apple crisp!

Here’s hoping for a cooler day next year, still filled with our friends and fun!

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, Minnesota

Yes, I know. Tired of my Minneapolis trip yet? I feel like it sometimes takes me forever to get around to doing posts, so I’m still writing about my trip. But it was so awesome that I can’t just leave anything out!

My second night in visiting with Sam and Jason (right after leaving the MN State Fair for the second day in a row) we headed to the Town Hall Brewery, a brewpub in downtown Minneapolis. Sam found the place and loved their website so much that she decided we had to go. That and they have great beer. I was sold. Doesn’t take much.

Our main goals was to try a bunch of different beers. We had eaten so much at the fair that we didn’t need much in the way of food. Just some beer samples. The Town Hall Brewery made it really easy to try different styles with their different beer flights.

Sam went with a flight of their signature brews: Dortmunder Local, Masala Mama IPA, Hope and King, Black H2o Oatmeal, and West Bank Pub Ale. I decided to go with the seasonal flight: Smoked Hefe, Broken Paddle ESB, Tank Monkey Double IPA, Honey Storm, and a special infused beer.

There were some really interesting flavors between these 10 different beers. Some that stood out most to me were in the seasonal flight. The Smoked Hefe had some really intense smokey flavor, along the lines of a smokey bourbon or a whiskey. The Honey Storm was interesting too, with a sweet start and really oakey (is that a wordy? it is now.) finish.

All the signature brews were good, solid varieties. I especially liked the Hope and King Scotch Ale and the West Bank Pub Ale. To me, both were really drinkable and I could totally see them becoming a favorite for me with some growlers at home if I didn’t live so far away.

OK, and I know I said we weren’t really hungry, but somehow sampling 10 different types of beer makes you feel like you suddenly have an appetite again. So we ended up with the Spinach and Artichoke Dip and the Mashed Potato Pizza (!).

The dip was delish with the pita chips for dipping and the “pizza” was basically like potato skins on a pita. Carbs anyone? Perfect pub snacks for imbibing some delicious beer.

I would love to go back for an actual meal in the dining room. We sat near the bar since we weren’t planning on ordering much food, mostly just drinks. I loved that they had different flight options. The most appealing part of the Town Hall Brewery to me was their selection of in-house beer, so I was really happy that it was easy to try so many different kinds.

Thanks Town Hall Brewery for a lovely evening filled with 10 different styles of beer!

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 BostonChefs.com, 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!

Widmer Brothers: Explore Your Craft Tour

A few weeks ago Dane and I went to the Boston leg of the Widmer Brothers Explore Your Craft Tour (co-sponsored with DRAFT magazine). Widmer Brothers is a craft brewery based in Portland, Oregon. The tour features live music, food and beer pairings, and visual arts at four different stops around the country. All that along with a fun group of people made for a great night.

Rebecca and I got the chance to meet one of the co-founders the night before the main event for an intimate tasting and Q & A session. Full story about that over at the MA Girls Pint Out blog.

The event was held at the The Estate in Boston with amazing catering from Capers Catering. The chefs managed to both infuse the food with different varieties of Widmer Brothers beer and create some incredible pairings. I’ll be honest. I was at this event for the beer (obviously) but the food was so delicious.

My favorite was the fish. The Citra Blonde was used to prepare the fish and it was the most perfect pairing. Light enough but definitely full of flavor.

We were surrounded by good company while we ate, tasted new beer, and listened to music by the Jeff Conley Band.

Chelsee, myself, Rebecca, Lindsey, and Nick.

Jeff Conley Band. The guitars are made from old suitcases. They were amazing.

The event also featured the visual arts with live painting by Erin Crowley and a local Boston artist showcasing her work. I loved watching this artist paint a scene of the event while it happened. The painting was auctioned off at the end of the night for charity.

The two best parts of the night for me were…

First, the Himbeere Gose, a beer made with raspberries and hibiscus. Unlike anything I have ever tasted and I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s one of their rare beers and not available widely. I hope I come across it again at some point! And it’s pink. A pink beer. Enough said.

Second, this giant picture you could paint! I must have spent an hour total painting in little parts of this giant piece. I painted a picture of a hop, and it was quite lovely if I do say so myself. I just loved this idea. The paint and brushes were out and anyone could go up and paint it in.

Glad we were able to get to this event here. Looking forward to incorporating some Widmer Brothers into my beer repetoire!


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!

And the Bruins Win the Stanley Cup!

The Bruins have been the talk of the town lately, and the whole city has been celebrating their Stanley Cup win since last week. Over the weekend Dane and I went to the Bruins Parade to join in the fun.

An excited fan with his own homemade Stanley Cup, and Bruins jersey body paint.

Another homemade Stanley Cup raised high and proud in the crowd gathered in Copley Square.

Captain Zdeno Chara with the cup on the lead Duck Boat!

My personal favorite, Nathan Horton, on the sixth Duck Boat.

Daniel Paille and John Bucyk saying hi.

Brad Marchand showing that the Bruins are number 1 and giving high fives to fans.

Now, when I celebrate, there’s usually food and drink involved. So after this amazing parade, I set out to find some Bruins inspired recipes and food pictures. Just wanted to share some of the links I found.

Get your Bruins Drink On

Delicious Dishing Blogger Megan’s Recipe for Black and Gold Cupcakes

Bruins Inspired Food Pictures

Congrats to the Boston Bruins for the 2011 Stanley Cup win! Just another reason I love this city.

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