food experiences

Upcoming Event: Boston Cake Experiment!

Last year Dane and I participated in our first cook-off competition with the Boston Pie Experiment. We had such a blast prepping and serving our Beer Chicken Pot Pie with all the other contestants and attendees. We got to meet some awesome people and try some delicious dishes.

This year I was contacted by The Food Experiments again, but will sadly be out of town the weekend of the competition. Even more sad for me, this year the competition is the Boston Cake Experiment, and we’re going to miss it! I wanted to share the information I got about the event this year because it was truly an awesome experience for us and something we’d recommend to other home cooks looking to try something new and different!

From the press release:

Since its inception, The Food Experiments competitions have consistently been met with sold-out crowds. Each Experiment features roughly 25 local amateur chefs who have prepared a unique creation incorporating the food theme. In a variation on last year’s sold out and decadent Boston Pie Experiment, the 2012 Boston Experiment will feature inspiration through cakes. These samples will be served to the 350 food enthusiasts and local cake-experienced judges. The first judge released on the esteemed judging panel will be Chef Rich Garcia, executive chef at 606 Congress. Additional judges will be released as the Experiment approaches.

Also exciting? The winner from every food experiment gets flown to Brooklyn for the national championship cook-off!

If you’re not sure about being a contestant, definitely consider checking out the event. You get to try a ton of different dishes and help decide some of the winners. Totally worth the $15 ticket.

Here’s the details on how to sign up, either as a contestant or attendee:

WHAT: The Boston Cake Experiment
WHEN: Sunday, June 24th, 2012
TIME: 6pm – 9pm
WHERE: Middle East Downstairs, 480 Massachusetts Ave Cambridge, MA 02139
JUDGES: Chef Rich Garcia, 606 Congress
TICKETS: $15 – includes a Brooklyn Brewery pint & a plethora of culinary delights. Half of the ticket proceeds will go towards charities that promote sustainability and local culinary education for disadvantaged children and teens.

To sign up just click this link!

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!

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!

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!

how2heroes Video #3: Cheddar, Beer, Broccoli Soup

Time to ring in the new year with a new recipe! A few weeks ago I got a visit from the fabulous crew of how2heroes. They set up in my kitchen again, for video number 3.

And here’s the finished video!

I got rave reviews from everyone, who got to enjoy the soup once the taping was over. I get really jealous thinking about how many delicious things they must get to try at all the different shoots they go to!

Give it a try and hope you enjoy!

p.s. If you want to have a laugh at my expense, check out the 2010 how2heroes Blooper Reel!

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!

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.

Connor’s Farm, Danvers

All of a sudden it was the end of November! Let’s just get these end of fall posts out of the way, then on to the holidays!

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One weekend I came into the living room to see Dane had a To-Do List made for us of things he wanted to do that weekend. At the top of his list was the corn maze at Connor’s Farm in Danvers. I couldn’t help but think it was pretty cute that my husband wanted to go to a farm, so of course I agreed and we drove up to Danvers.

Connor’s Farm is small, but busy, especially during the fall. For the fun seekers, enjoy the jumping pillow and the corn maze. For the barbeque lover, there’s Bob’s Barbeque Pit. For the passive aggressive types, try the corn cannon and shoot a corn cob into the pond. There’s a little something for everyone.

First up for us, the corn maze. Every year they do a different maze with a different design. We loaded up on apple cider and cider donuts before going in, just in case we didn’t make it back out.

While we wandered we stumbled upon these clever little signs. Kept us distracted from the fact that we had no idea where we were going (and weren’t really paying attention to our path). Corn all starts to look the same.

We did make it out eventually, and headed right over to the jumping pillow. There was not one adult on it, but really, that was not going to stop me from having fun. Look at how much fun those kids are having! Why should they be the only ones?

After less than 5 minutes I was exhausted! That thing was a much tougher workout than I had thought. I have no idea how kids have that much energy. On to the hayride. No jumping involved.

We headed over to the farm store after all our fun and loaded up on fall goodies. They have fresh produce, local food, and local dairy products. If you’re looking to shop local, definitely give Connor’s a try!

We had a blast being kids for the day at Connor’s Farm. We’d definitely go back (if not for the awesome cider donuts, then for the corn cannon, which wasn’t working when we went for our turn). I’d love to go back as the holidays get closer and get some homemade pies.

Thanks for a fun day Connor’s!

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