Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Time Out Chicago's Grilled Cheese Meltdown

Chicago Foodie Sisters had the pleasure of attending Time Out Chicago's 2nd Annual Grilled Cheese Meltdown, a competition to crown the most succulent of cheesy sandwich creations in the city. Guests noshed on samples from nine venues serving up creative concoctions - from South Water Kitchen's pear, brie and blueberry jam sandwich to Toasty Cheese's Chef Choice (duck bacon, provolone, fresh spinach and fresh baby arugula with Sicilian cherry tomatoes and coli on a panini) to a braised short rib grilled cheese from Michael Jordan's Steakhouse.

A couple of drinks were included in your ticket - a beer from China, Tsingtao, and a delicious crisp hard cider that I was tasting for the first time and am now obsessed with from Sweden, Rekorderlig Cider.

The event had three separate sessions, each 2 hours at 11:30, 2 and 4:30. It was a fabulous way to spend a dreary winer afternoon. The event was held at Thaila Hall, an 1892 opera house in Pilsen that has some beautiful features in its lighting and decorative woodwork.

It was really hard picking a favorite. Each attendee got to place a vote for the best grilled cheese. I left full but by the time I got home was wishing I had another plate of gooey grilled cheese in front of me. It was the stuff that foodie dreams are made of. Find the list of winners here.

The event was incredibly organized and well executed and if you're looking for more fun food events to attend in the future, I'd give a thumbs up to anything hosted by Time Out Chicago. Some of their other events have been Battle of the Burger, Chicago's Donut Party and the Mac and Cheese Smackdown.

Blue Gate Garden Inn

On a recent trip to Shipshewana in Indiana's Amish Country right after Christmas, I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy some really good food. On our last trip to that area, I remember dining at an Amish-style restaurant where food was served family style and while it was good and comforting and filling it wasn't outstanding.

On this visit I had some really good food without ever leaving our hotel. We stayed at the Blue Gate Garden Inn and the evening of our arrival we contemplated heading out to a restaurant, but decided that we'd stay in and stay warm and cozy and order a pizza. I wasn't expecting anything special and figured it was probably a frozen pizza that would be heated up in a toaster oven. I could not have been more wrong. I called down to the cafe and placed our order and then we all went downstairs and played a few rounds of ping pong and air hockey in the arcade while we waited. I got a pizza with sausage and ham and it was really delicious - like one of the best pizzas I have ever had outside the Chicago area. I am attributing it to probably very fresh ingredients from local farms. The meats were very flavorful and the cheese was so creamy.

We followed up with ice cream since we had been walking through the hotel that afternoon and could smell them making the fresh waffle cones and waffle bowls -- and just couldn't resist. The ice cream was really creamy and the waffle cones and bowls were so good and fresh.

The next morning we went down for breakfast. I love when we stay at a hotel that has breakfast included. We enjoyed make-your-own waffles, eggs, a ham and potato casserole, biscuits and gravy and more. They also had a station where they'd make custom omelets - which again tasted so fresh and full of flavor. It was a huge, hearty breakfast and a great way to start the day.

Should you find your way in that neck of the woods, I would highly recommend staying at Blue Gate Garden Inn. Since we were traveling with three of our kids, they enjoyed the arcade and there are some cozy commons areas where families can just relax or play games or they can head to the indoor pool. The place is extremely clean and the staff could not have been more friendly. There's also a very cool car museum next door - the Hosteler's Hudson Auto Museum, which is full of vintage cars dating back to the early 1900's.

For more information, visit bluegategardeninn.com.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Dang! That's Good Butterscotch Root Beer

My family knows that as a foodie, I like to try new foods and beverages every chance I get. So, when hubby and the boys were making their way through the hardware store and noticed some unusual soda brands near the checkout, they picked this up and wrapped it along with my Christmas gifts.

At first the thought of butterscotch with root beer didn't sound very appealing, but i have certainly learned that you can't be fooled by what sounds like an odd or ill-matched combination. Sometimes you can be really surprised by how well some flavors go together. That goes for this soda. The butterscotch is subtle and it has a vanilla flavor with it as well, which made it taste to me more like a cream soda. It was actually pretty sweet (but not overly sweet) and delicious and I'd gladly accept another bottle as a gift (hint, hint kids!)

I looked up the soda and learned that it is made by Imperial Flavors Beverage Company in Milwaukee and they have been making unique soda flavors since 1964. I will be on the look-out for additional flavors! For more information on the company, visit imperial flavors.com.

The Ringer

I have fuzzy memories of making scrambled eggs in a cast iron pan as a kid and then it being a nightmare to wash by hand. I was about 10. I had no idea how to care for cast iron. I didn't know it had to be seasoned. Or that it needed a little oil rubbed on it before the eggs went in to prevent sticking. Or that you weren't supposed to use soap when you cleaned it.  And I'm pretty sure I used a Brillo pad on it - a big no-no. Yup, I really did a number on my mom's pan.

Now many years later, thanks to hubby's love of cast iron, I'm back to using it again - with a little better handle on how to use it and care for it. It can still get some stubborn stuff stuck on the bottom when cooking and then it's a little tricky to get it off. Usually some hot water does the trick, but when it doesn't I'm still wary of doing damage. So, I was excited to get an email with an offer to try out "The Ringer." It's a premium non-rusting stainless steel scrubber specifically for cast iron that is "tough on grit, gentle on seasoning."

The Ringer is made from machine soldered chainmail and is uber strong (the material was originally designed to help protect police from stab wounds.) The patented design makes it easier and quicker to clean cast iron with nothing more than hot water and because of its durable patented design, it should last a very long time.

I tried it out recently after I'd made some taco meat that got left on the high heat a little too long. The Ringer cleaned it out easily. I have always dreaded having to clean a dirty cast iron pan. For a long time it even prevented me from using cast iron. I love that I don't have to worry about stuck-on food anymore because all I need to do is a few passes with the Ringer and I'm done.

One other nice thing about this product is that you don't have to fear spreading bacteria as can happen with sponges. You can also throw it in the dishwasher to clean it.

The Ringer retails for $15 and can be ordered on Amazon.

***I did receive a complimentary product sample for the purpose of a review. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

von Trapp Brewing's Trosten Lager

When I saw the name of von Trapp Brewing I assumed that it was started by someone who just coincidentally had the same name as the famous musical family from Austria that spurred the classic movie "The Sound of Music." Well, turns out I was wrong. It wasn't someone who had the same name as the family. It IS a member of that famous family who started this brewery.

The youngest of the von Trapp children, Johannes, started the brewery at the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont. I had no idea the family had a lodge and resort there and that the youngest von Trapp child, who was fond of Austrian lagers, opened a brewery there in 2010.

I received a seasonal winter beer bucket from GourmetGiftBaskets.com before the holidays to sample and review for a post and this was one of the beers that was included. It's a dark, heavy bitter brew typical of winter versions that tends to warm you all the way through.

I was fascinated by the story behind the brewery and will have to seek out some of their other beers, as well. For more information, visit vontrappbrewing.com.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


When it comes to burgers there are oodles of places to choose from, but there's not another burger out there quite like Schoop's. It's a thinner burger that is a little crispy on the edges. I've been enjoying Schoop's for decades now - from the time I was a kid and we'd enjoy a burger at the Calumet City location. Most of my visits are now to the location in Munster. My parents lived just a few blocks away for the past dozen years, but they just relocated to central Illinois. I'd meet them often to have a burger and fries - and usually a chocolate malt in the dining room. My kids have always loved going there too so that they could play tunes on the juke box. I loved that they had the Super Bowl Shuffle on the juke box for many, many years Not sure if it's still there. Last time I was so excited to see Go Cubs Go on the juke box - I played it over and over and over.

I don't think there's been a time I've been there that I haven't ordered a burger. But they do serve other things. :) My parents like their egg salad and their grilled cheese, too. My son loves the Irish nachos. If you've never had a Schoop's burger, look them up and find one. It comes highly recommended by the Chicago Foodie Sisters.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Time Out Chicago's 2nd Annual Grilled Cheese Meltdown set for January 15

Winters in Chicago can be brutal, but one thing can make it much, much better - comfort food. While it will be months before we're partying lakeside in our tank tops with a cocktail, we can still enjoy some fun foodie events that highlight some of the great foodie spots in the city.

Time Out Chicago's 2nd Annual Grilled Cheese Meltdown is happening on Sunday, January 15 and tickets are still available for 1 of 3 sessions at Thaila Hall. If you've got to head out of the house on a Sunday in January, it might as well be for some of the best grilled cheese in the Windy City along with entertainment and tasty beverages. Read on for the full 411:

Chicago is crowning the ultimate Grilled Cheese

Time Out Chicago’s second annual Grilled Cheese Meltdown is coming to town on January 15

Chicago (January 6, 2017): January will see Chicago’s very best Grilled Cheese being crowned from a selection of some of the city’s best. Time Out, the trusted global brand for inspiring and enabling people to make the most of the city, is bringing back the popular Grilled Cheese Meltdown for the second year on January 15 at Thalia Hall.

The Grilled Cheese Meltdown will present the city’s best cheesy sandwiches as Time Out Chicago’s editors challenged nine local restaurants to offer creative takes on this classic. And it’s not chefs or gourmet experts to decide on the winner, it’s Chicagoans and Time Out still has tickets available. Participants get to taste each of the nine contenders best offerings from the featured restaurants:

Gayle’s Best Ever Grilled Cheese
Same Day Café
South Water Kitchen
Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse
Toasty Cheese
Jerry’s Sandwiches
Cheesies Pub and Grub
Wyler Road

This head-to-head cheesy competition will come with tomato soup from Same Day Café complimentary beer provided by Tsingtao and Rekorderlig Cider.

Erin Delahanty, Associate Publisher at Time Out Chicago, says: “At Time Out we love encouraging people to explore the city and are constantly uncovering more of the best things to do and places to eat. Our Grilled Cheese Meltdown puts nine of our favorite spots for the classic comfort food under one roof—that plus good drinks and music makes for a great winter day in Chicago.”

Time Out Chicago’s Grilled Cheese Meltdown– tickets are still available:
  • Date: January 15, 2017
  • The event will be held from 11:30am-6:30pm, with a ticket entitling guests to choose from three sessions (11:30am-1:30pm, 2-4pm, and 4:30-6:30pm)
  • Location: Thalia Hall, 1807 S Allport St, Chicago, IL 60608
  • Tickets are just $30 - a ticket gets you: grilled cheese tastings from each participating restaurant, one complementary beer, one complimentary cider, music and more

For more information and to book your ticket, visit here

Countdown to the Krispy Kreme Return to Chicagoland

Guess who's back? The maker of the original classic glazed doughnut - Krispy Kreme. After a long absence from Chicagoland, it's a matter of hours - not days or weeks or months - before the Homewood store opens and Chicagoans can get their delicious doughnut fix again. Krispy Kreme's Homewood store at 17815 S. Halsted Street will be the first of eight coming back to Chicagoland.

Over the weekend I had the privilege of receiving several dozen doughnuts to pass on to some local people -- to raise awareness off the return of Krispy Kreme and put a smile on their face by giving them a taste of the famous doughnuts in advance of the opening. I had a lot of fun running around town to make deliveries. I did a live Facebook video as I set out and I monitored comments and surprised a few others I didn't originally have on my list. I also suggested that our local first responders in Homewood and Lansing would love to try them out and they made deliveries to our fire and police departments. Here's a few pics I snapped on my Saturday afternoon adventure with a trunk full of Krispy Kremes. :)

The Civil Air Patrol Thunder Composite Squadron Drill Team

Staff at the Lansing Public Library

Pharmacy staff at Walgreen's

Krusza family and friends

Staff at Mancino's Pizza and Grinders

Pretty soon you'll be able to enjoy them again, too. See the full press release below on the opening activities -- and learn how you can score free Krispy Kremes this year!

ON JANUARY 10, 2017

CHICAGO – (December 5, 2016) – Krispy Kreme Doughnutsglobal retailer of premium-quality sweet treats and great tasting coffee, announces the official Grand Opening of its first store returning to Chicagoland at 17815 S. Halsted Street in Homewood, IL on Tuesday, January 10, 2017.

The highly anticipated Grand Opening of Krispy Kreme in Homewood will honor the first 100 customers in line at the store (drive-thru customers not included) with:

·         One free dozen Original Glazed® doughnuts every week for a year to the first dozen (12) customers.
·         One free dozen Original Glazed® doughnuts every month for a year for customers 13 through 100.

Lineup begins the evening before, January 9, in a heated tent and customers will receive a line placement number. Customers must be present until doors open on Tuesday, January 10 at 6:00 a.m.

The opening day celebration begins at 7:30 a.m. with the acclaimed Homewood-Flossmoor High School Viking Marching Band rolling in the festivities, which include a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 8:00 a.m. with Village dignitaries and many more surprises.

Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s radio station will be broadcasting on WHFH 88.5 FM, and VTV can be seen at www.vikingtelevision.com.

“We are excited to join the Homewood community with our first Krispy Kreme Chicagoland location,” said Carlos Larcada, President of Chicagoland Restaurants, LLC. “We’re ready to turn on our Hot Light™ and serve up hot, fresh Krispy Kreme favorites.”

The Homewood store will showcase Krispy Kreme’s new rebranded design to create a classic welcoming atmosphere for customers to relax and enjoy their treats. The shop will feature Krispy Kreme’s Midwest premiere of its NEW premium coffee, ground fresh every time it is served, and more than a dozen one-of-a-kind doughnuts. This location also will house a 24-hour drive-thru.

Krispy Kreme favorites have captured the hearts of doughnut lovers since its first factory doors opened in 1937 in Winston-Salem, N.C., and the new location will not disappoint the doughnut legacy’s loyal fans. As the new neighborhood doughnut destination, Krispy Kreme in Homewood will offer such staples as the signature Original GlazedGlazed Chocolate Cake and Chocolate Iced with SprinklesDoughnuts from the traditional menu, and new seasonal recipes will rotate year-round. For a refreshing sip, the shop will feature a drink menu including Krispy Kreme Smooth drip coffee, crafted specialty lattes, and Frozen Chillers from Krispy Kreme’s café favorites. 

“I am beyond delighted that Krispy Kreme Doughnuts will soon open here in Homewood,” said Rich Hofeld, Homewood Village President. “Their location in our Halsted Street commercial district is a great addition to the community and I look forward to stopping by whenever I am in need of something sweet.”

Download the Krispy Kreme Hot Light™ mobile app to be one of the first to see Krispy Kreme’s iconic Hot Light™ go on in Homewood. Go to www.hotlightapp.com to get Hot Light™ alerts and store directions to your smartphone. 

The Homewood Krispy Kreme, located at 17815 S. Halsted Street, will be open daily from
6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., with a drive-thru open 24 hours every day.

For more information visit www.KrispyKreme.com  and www.krispykremechi.com. Follow along the celebration on social media at #KrispyKremeChicago and on Facebook at Krispy Kreme Homewood.

About Chicagoland Restaurants, LLC
Chicagoland Restaurants, LLC was founded in 2015. The franchisee group’s initial project will oversee the return of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts to the Chicagoland market with eight Cook County locations by 2020, and more planned for the greater Chicagoland market. The Homewood location marks Krispy Kreme’s reentry into the Chicagoland area after a seven year absence, with two additional shops planned for 2017.

About Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc., is a global retailer of premium-quality sweet treats, including its signature Original Glazed® doughnut. Headquartered in Winston-Salem, N.C., the Company has offered the highest-quality doughnuts and great-tasting coffee since it was founded in 1937.  Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is proud of its Fundraising program, which for decades has helped non-profit organizations raise millions of dollars in needed funds. The Company has more than 1,000 retail shops in 27 countries. Connect with Krispy Kreme Doughnuts at www.KrispyKreme.com, or on one of its many social media channels, including www.Facebook.com/KrispyKreme, and www.Twitter.com/KrispyKreme

The Cafe at IKEA

Just before Christmas, our family braved the shopping crowds and paid a visit to IKEA in Bolingbrook. Actually, for being just a couple days before Christmas it wasn't as bas as I expected. It had been a while since I'd been to IKEA and it was the first visit for the rest of the family. I remembered how long it took to get through the place and figured we'd work a lunch in at the cafe. I hadn't eaten there before but has always heard that it was good, economical and that there were yummy Swedish meatballs.

So, after making our way through the upper level, we came to the cafe where the boys tried out some pasta, chicken tenders and meatballs. I did try one of the meatballs, which was pretty delicious, but I opted for the stuffed chicken. It was really, really good. Not sure what all it was stuffed with - some kind of white, creamy and slightly sweet cheese that left me wanting more. And I loved the veggie mix that came with it. I am totally in love with Brussels sprouts and loved that the veggie blend had cauliflower, carrots and Brussels sprouts.

True to the idea of European efficiency that the place is built upon, the cafe is a cafeteria-style eatery where you line up with your tray, get your plate, pay, find a table, fill a glass and clear your own table when you're done. Prices are reasonable and food is definitely above average for cafeteria-style. The boys were eyeing dessert, so they each got one and I got to sample several - an almond cake, a cherry strudel, a slice of chocolate cake and a marzipan cream cake. My late father-in-law, a native of Germany, loved marzipan and we'd always get him marzipan chocolate treats for his birthday or Christmas. So, naturally I had to give the marzipan cream cake a try (it's the pink one in the picture.) It blew me away. It was so light an airy and not overly sweet or rich - even though it looks like it is. It's not an oversized portion and it's a perfect finish for a meal.

This week we made another trip back to IKEA with a couple of the boys to pick up some more things. When we told the boys we were going and asked if they wanted to come along, one quickly replied with, "Can we have dinner there?" I didn't hesitate to reply with a yes. I knew it would be nearing dinner time and a shopping trip there is never an in and out experience. You know you'll be there a while and will be hungry at some point. So, off we went again with two of the boys. When we arrived my stomach was grumbling and I suggested eating first and then shopping and got no resistance.

On the way upstairs, we eyed photos on signs of what was being offered in the cafe. It had a photo of a plate with a baked chicken thigh, potatoes and veggies for $4 or $5. My husband said it looked good and that he'd like to order that. I was looking forward to the stuffed chicken again. Well, we were a little disappointed when we got there that they didn't have the chicken pictured for dinner. They also didn't have the stuffed chicken. The boys wanted meatballs - one asked for Swedish meatballs and the other chicken meatballs. There was a 10-minute wait on chicken meatballs so they both ended up with Swedish meatballs. The only other options were chicken tenders or salmon. I was fine with trying the salmon. It looked good and came with a hearty helping of veggies with barley and a nice buttery sauce. It was pretty good - but did still leave me feeling a little hungry. I fixed that by getting the delicious marzipan cream cake. I could get used to eating those often. And...as we were heading out the door I noticed a lady putting a box of them in her cart! I asked and she said they sell a box of four in the cooler section. (I hadn't even noticed the cooler section near check-out.) So, next time I'll have to get a few to bring home.

Just a few FYI's if you are new to the cafe:

- Kid meals are just $2.99 at the Bolingbrook location - some options are meatballs, organic pasta and chicken tenders.
- After you get your meal, you can grab some garlic bread or cornbread a la carte - or a little side salad or soup.
- Not sure why, but for some reason the desserts are placed first before the entrees. I guess to temp you into grabbing first, but just a warning for parents that the first thing the kids will see are big slices of chocolate cake, so you may want to have the kids find a table while you get the entrees.
- There's a self-serve soda fountain. The no-name cola may be a turn-off to some, but there are always some great carbonated fruity drinks - lingonberry, elderberry and others.
- They don't have it in the cafe, but on the lower level near the exit is another little food counter and they have THE BEST frozen yogurt. It's just a dollar for a cone. That includes tax.
- Also near checkout, you can buy a bag of Swedish meatballs to make at home.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Goshen Brewing Company

Texas Tumbleweed
On a recent visit to Indiana's Amish Country, we needed to find a place to stop for dinner as we were heading back home late in the afternoon. My hubby likes to search for craft breweries that serve food when we are on the road, so after looking online he found Goshen Brewing Co. which was just a little off of our path coming home to the Chicago area from Pokagon State Park in Angola, Indiana.

As we were driving to the brewery, it started snowing. Like really, really snowing. It made for a pretty scene, but a treacherous drive. Unfortunately, we had traveled to Shipshewana for their annual ice festival when there was no snow on the ground. The early season snow had all melted and we were there on a day when the temps were in the early 40's and the beautiful sculptures were dripping. But, the day we decided to head home the temps dropped and the snow started falling.

Pulled Pork with slaw on the side and chips
Anyway, by the time we reached our destination, it was a very welcome and warm sight (between the blizzard conditions.) Located in an NIPSCO building (I believe an old pumping station) it has an industrial feel with brick and steel accents. I was impressed by both the beers and the food menu. It's a casual spot where you order your food at the counter and your beer at the bar, so it was nice not to have a long wait to get either. We were there on a weeknight right after Christmas and even though it was full when we got there, we didn't have to wait long for a table.

We started out with a Texas Tumbleweed, a cream cheese and smoked Gouda cheese ball rolled in bacon, jalapeños and walnuts and served with tortilla chips. It was addictive and I could have easily made a meal entirely out of this appetizer.

Hubby and I were with three of our boys and everyone ordered something different. One kid got a Cobb Salad, one got a pulled pork, one got a beef brisket. I got some mac and cheese and hubby got the "Low & Slow" sandwich - a skirt steak braised for 8 hours, then grilled and topped with chimichurri aioli, grilled onion and greens on a ciabatta bun. It was phenomenal!
Cobb Salad (LOVED the buttermilk dressing!)
Macaroni & Cheese

Tried a beer flight and liked everything we tried. Favorites were the Millrace Hefe, the Heritage (kolsch-style) and Pear Pressure (Belgian Saison) 

Being in Amish country, we were greeted by buggy parking in the lot beside the building. :) 

If you happen to be in that area, this craft brewery is well worth the stop!

Goshen Brewing Company
315 W. Washington 
Goshen, IN
(574) 971-5324