Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Marc's Take: State Fair Food Guide

This week’s guest post is the writing debut of my brother Marc. While he has made cameos on the blog over the past three years, this marks his first official article! My brother is a fantastic cook, expert meat and fish smoker, and all around great guy. He shares the family love for food adventures and this post covers one of his annual traditions. With the Big E running in Massachusetts, I asked him to share his guide to state fair eating. If you follow his guide, you'll be sure to have a great time. He currently lives in Indianapolis and shares his guide to the Indiana State Fair. I hope you enjoy!

State Fair Food Guide

The end of summer brings one of America’s great traditions, the State fairs. The Big E began this past weekend in Springfield. In Indiana our state fair takes place in August, so below are some highlights to help you guide your way through the Big E over the next few weeks.

State fairs began as a way to celebrate and promote local agriculture and products available in each state. They were a way for local farmers to showcase the crops and animals they raise. They were also way to educate each other on the best practices in farming. State Fairs continue to serve this function today, although it is more of an education for those of us that are not part of the agricultural industry on a daily basis. As you visit the fair be sure to take a walk through the animal barns and vegetable displays to see this first hand.

Yes, even Lambs have Snuggies (animal print snuggies)

Now let’s talk about what makes the state fair great, the food and in particular the deep fried foods. The Indiana fair offers a great way to enjoy the fair and try many different foods, Two Dollar Tuesday. Each Tuesday of the fair vendors offer a different item for $2, usually it is a smaller portion of their signature dish. This not only allows you to save money but also try significantly more items. I recommend checking the specials at your state fair for an opportunity like this.

For the past few years a group of friends and I have made the trip to the fair. Luckily the fair grounds are in Indianapolis just a 10 minute drive. Even if you are further away the state fair is a good day trip and is worth experiencing. Here are some highlights from our trips to the fair:

Appetizers- Always start with something sweet, that’s why you came to the fair to begin with right?

Deep Fried Butter- This is by far one of the best deep fried treats, imagine a frozen pat of butter coated in cinnamon and sugar dipped in funnel cake batter and deep fried. The resulting golf ball sized treat tastes like a gooey cinnamon roll. The best way to eat it is to bite off one end take the liquid center as if it were a shot and chase it with the fried dough. 5 out of 5.

Deep Fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup - Right up there with the deep fried butter. People rave about the Snickers Bar and the Twinkie. But the Reese's cup surpasses both. The full size Reese’s cup dipped is dipped in a funnel cake batter and fried until the outside is crisp. The inside of the dough is soft and the peanut butter and chocolate melt together to create an unforgettable combination. 5 out of 5.

Deep Fried Cookie Dough - This was actually found at Progressive field in Cleveland, home of the Cleveland Indians. We all love raw Chocolate Chip cookie dough and this hits the mark. A generous portion of raw cookie dough is covered in funnel cake batter, fried and served with powdered sugar. The cookie dough come out warm and tastes like a partially baked cookie. If you are at the ball park this is a must have. 5 out of 5.

Entrees- Time for something a bit heartier
Chicken Eggo Sandwich- A deep fried chicken breast coated in a Captain Crunch Batter between two eggo waffles. This was worth the hype and had a nice crunch on both the eggos and the chicken. I would recommend giving this a try if available at your fair. 4 out of 5

Donut or French Toast Cheeseburger- As it sounds a burger with maple syrup between two pieces of French toast or two krispy crème donuts (your choice). This has become more popular in recent years and really isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. The sweetness of the donuts overpowers the burger and doesn’t offer the right balance of sweet and savory. 2 out of 5

Burgers and donuts on the flat top.
Gotta love the ads.


Ya Ya’s Deep Fried Tomato Balls - Greek inspired combination of diced tomatoes, cheese onions and bread crumbs fried to a crisp golden brown. These come served with a tzaziki sauce that makes it extremely refreshing after all the sweet items you had before. 4 out of 5.

Corn on the Cob - I know what you are thinking. Corn on the Cob that is too healthy for the fair, why waste your time? Well remember the fair is about celebrating the harvest and the local farmers. Oh and they have crock pots full of melting butter that your corn takes a bath in before it gets to you. Throw that health concern out the window, nothing healthy about it. 5 out of 5

Hopefully this helps you navigate the state fair and narrow down some of the choices. What are your favorite fair foods?

Here are a few more fair offerings.

Deep fried brownie

Freshly fried Saratoga chips

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Beth From Denver: Zucchini Crisps for Healthy Snack Wednesday

My best friend Beth from Denver is back with another delicious vegetarian friendly dish. This is a great addition to the game night snack spread, or even for a quick appetizer before a dinner party. Some of our favorite Italian restaurants in St. Louis (where we grew up) offer fried zucchini sticks as an appetizer. While they are always tasty, this version is more appropriate for Healthy Snack Wednesday. Enjoy!

From Beth:
I love snacks! Especially when they are healthy and easy to make. I knew I would want something to snack on while watching the Broncos on Monday Night Football but didn't want to spend too long in the kitchen. So I sliced some zucchini and made some crisps. Sorry for the vague ingredients list, as I was being speedy, I didn't measure anything.

Zucchini Crisps
1 zucchini, cut into about 1/4 inch slices
Shredded parmesan cheese
Bread crumbs
Olive oil
Marinara sauce

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice the zucchini and toss with olive oil in a bowl to coat evenly. Combine the shredded parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste in a smaller bowl. Coat both sides of each zucchini slice before placing on a foil covered cookie sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes until zucchini is tender. Serve with warm marinara sauce for dipping.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vacation Eats: Burlington, Vermont

My family loves food as much as a I do! When planning a vacation to celebrate my mom's birthday, we knew that we would do a lot of eating. We started our week-long vacation with a weekend in Burlington, Vermont. My mom, brother, the hubby and I packed up the car and headed north. After about a four hour drive we arrived at our hotel in Burlington. 

After a quick pit stop, our first dining destination was the Bluebird Tavern, recommended by my friend Jenni. This local spot is known for its local, sustainable foods and creative menu. It's located just down the road from the main downtown area in Burlington. The space is really interesting, with dark wood interior and a nice rustic feel. Interestingly enough, in its former life it was a Mexican restaurant! The current owners did a great job of changing the space and giving it a warm and comfortable New England Tavern feel. The creative menu offered a lot of choices for both food and inventive cocktails. 

We had been driving all day and were ready to eat. After ordering cocktails - a roasted orange negroni for my brother and some wine, we started the meal with two different appetizers. My mom and I shared the chilled carrot soup served with pickled eggs and microgreens. There was also a delicious oil drizzled on top (can't remember what it is now!). And the four of us shared a huge bowl of poutine with bluebird gravy and Vermont cheddar curds. 

We didn't get a picture of all the entrees, just half of my squash blossom flatbread. The dough had just the right amount of bite and was topped with fried squash blossoms, thinly sliced zucchini and Vermont Butter & Creamery goat cheese. My adventurous brother chose the Smoked Deer served eggplant, olives, and new potatoes. My mom's dry aged NY strip was surrounded with a beautiful assortment of mushrooms and a flavorful mushroom jus. The service was great and the food was fantastic. We were pretty sure that we were too full for dessert...until the menu arrived. I just can't say no to root beer floats. And this was no ordinary root beer float. This one had roasted almond ice cream (with roasted almonds) and was topped with Rookie's root beer. Rookie's is a local Vermont brew. According to their Facebook page, "Rookie's Root Beer is hand crafted in small batches in our Burlington, Vermont since 2005.We use premium ingredients such as licorice, wintergreen, sassafras, vanilla, molasses, and evaporated cane juice."

After tasting this delicious combination of roasted almond and handcrafted root beer, it will be hard to go back to plain vanilla!

Next time you're in Burlington, be sure to stop in to Bluebird Tavern! Bluebird Tavern on Urbanspoon

The next morning we got up bright and early to head to a day full of dairy delights - the 3rd Annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival. The sun was shining and there were hardly any clouds in the sky. The festival takes place on the beautiful grounds of Shelburne Farms. As we drove toward the Coach Barn we passed grazing cows, the manicured lawn of the Inn and along the edge of Lake Champlain.

After arriving at the festival, we had our hands stamped and started our adventure. The festival was set up in a large entry tent as well as various rooms in the Coach Barn. My mom and brother purchased tasting glasses to sample out the local beers, wines and spirits. For just a few dollars, plus a few more for samples and they were  happy!

Maple syrup shots

Cheers! Maple Cheesecake minis.
After a sweet treat, we settled in for an entertaining grilling demo from Steve Atkins
Chef and Owner of The Kitchen Table Bistro.My only complaint was that he only showed us how to make the recipes and there were no samples. Since they sounded so good, we adapted one for our most recent cookout. Grilled bread (whole grain baguette) with grilled flank steak, thinly sliced Montegrappa cheese and arugula. It was a perfect appetizer and easy to customize for non-cheese eaters and non-arugula lovers.

After sampling cheeses, pickles, jams, sauces, and more we were ready for some solid food. There were two lunch vendors set up just outside the tent. We opted for the grass-fed burger topped with Vermont cheddar and a side of Asian slaw. We added on some Root Cellar bread and butter pickles that we purchased for a perfect pairing (try to say that three times fast!).

I think the hubby is thanking this little guy
for the delicious goat cheese.

The festival was a lot of fun! The tickets were reasonably priced and we had a great weekend in Burlington. It did get crowded as the day went on, but everyone was polite. There were a huge number of samples to be had - I only wish we could have bought more! Our next destination was Montreal and we weren't travelling with any refrigeration. I did get a lot of brochures to remember what we liked.

For links to all of the vendors, including the ones below visit the official festival website at It's hard to describe everything we tried, so here are some of our tasting highlights:

Root Cellar Pickles: In addition to traditional bread & butter, they also had sweet & spicy and apple cinnamon!
Red Hen Baking Company: They had a delicious assortment of breads to pair with the cheese samples. We didn't move quickly enough and they were sold out before we could get a loaf.
Maplebrook Farm:  Fresh ricotta sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, fresh mozzarella, and deliciously creamy burrata cheese.
Sage Farm: This small family run dairy produces a number of delicious goat cheeses. We tried the Sterling and the Madonna. They were creamy, a little tangy, and delicious.
O Bread Baking Company: This bakery is located on the property of Shelburne Farm and has been turning out pies, baguettes, and more since 1979. We bought a deliciously buttery brioche for a road trip snack.
Vermont Spirits: Tell me this doesn't sound incredible: "Vermont Gold Vodka is pure, delicate, unflavored vodka, handmade in small batches from the sugar of maple sap". This unique distillery produces three vodkas: two from maple sap and one from milk sugars. This results in a smooth vodka. Each year is different depending on the sap.
Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm: Of course everything that gets aged at this facility is worth noting! I especially love the Cabot clothbound cheddar.

We left the festival full and happy!

We had a few other stops in Burlington before heading north. We found a little more room in our stomachs for a tasty locally sourced dinner at The Farmhouse Tap and Grill downtown. How can you go wrong with a restaurant that offers biscuits as an appetizer! Their menu was full of tempting items and I hope we can get back there again to try out more. Farmhouse Tap and Grill on Urbanspoon

On our way out of town we stopped into local favorite Penny Cluse Cafe for a hearty breakfast. I enjoyed a hearty omelet full of fresh vegetables. The hubby opted for the special french toast and we had a gigantic fresh fruit bowl to start us off. The coffee was fresh, hot and refilled often. A great start to our day. Penny Cluse Cafe on Urbanspoon

Next stop....Montreal!


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