Friday, January 30, 2015

Orange Chicken at J's Peapod in Lansing, IL

I've posted in the past on a great Chinese restaurant near my house called J's Peapod. I haven't been that adventurous in ordering and often stick to Sweet & Sour chicken. They also have great egg rolls, fried rice and beef with veggies. On the most recent visit I tried out the Orange Chicken. Don't know why I haven't ordered it before. It's what we order at most other Chinese restaurants and it's my son's favorite dish when we hit Panda Express. J's Peapod gets a thumbs up for the Orange Chicken and it's going to be a regular item when we order from now on.

J's Peapod has two locations in Lansing, one on Burnham Ave. at the south end of town and another just off Burnham at the north end of town.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Chicago Restaurant Week: 312 Chicago

Chicago Restaurant Week is here. And it's really two weeks! That means there are two weeks ahead to try out some fabulous dishes and some of the best eateries in and around the city - several courses for a fixed price.

During the next couple weeks, I'm going to share some random menus to give you an idea of what you'll find for options. Over 300 restaurants are participating, so there's a ton to choose from and you're bound to find oodles of places that appeal to even to diners with the most discriminating palates. Here's what you'll find at 312 Chicago in the Loop. There are some scrumptious options and you're getting a three-course meal for quite a bargain!

Chicago Restaurant Week January 30 - February 12, 2015

312 Chicago

Dinner $44

Wine Pairings $20 Please select one from each course

First Course
Soufflé di Spinaci Spinach Soufflé, Taleggio Cheese Fondue, Micro Rainbow
Vitello Tonnato Thinly Sliced Roasted Veal, Tuna Caper Aioli, Watercress
Polpetti alla Griglia Grilled Baby Octopus, Red Bliss Potatoes, String Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, Chive Oil
Wine: Cusamano Insolia, Sicilia

Second Course
Gnocchi di Ricotta Ricotta Dumplings, Porcini Mushrooms, Parmesan Cream, White Truffle Oil
Salmone Roasted Faroe Island Salmon, Tri Color Lentils, Kale, Cipollini Onions, Lemon Thyme Oil
Costoletta di Maiale Roasted Pork Chop, Prosciutto, Fontina, Julienne Vegetables, Pork Reduction Wine: Il Poggione Rosso ,Toscana

Third Course
Torta di Cioccolato Flourless Chocolate Cake, Pistachio Chantilly Cream, Wild Berries Sauce
Tiramisu di Zucca Butternut Squash Mascarpone, Lady Fingers, Amaretti, Espresso Liquor, Zabaglione
Gelato or Sorbetti del Giorno Gelato or Sorbet of the Day Wine: Berlucchi Brut, Franciacorta
Executive Chef Luca Corazzina

*The Restaurant Week menu is designed for each guest to enjoy individually; regular restaurant menu items may be ordered in addition. **Beverages, tax and gratuity not included.
136 N. LaSalle St, Chicago, IL 60602, 312.696.2420 

Celebrate Mardi Gras at Marion Street Market

Fat Tuesday is just around the corner and Marion Street Market, 100 South Marion Street in Oak Park is pulling out all the stops to help patrons enjoy the party. They have some wonderful N'Awlins-style specialties being offered next month to celebrate. 

From February 16 to 20, guests are invited show up in Mardi Gras garb. So grab the bead and masks and spend some time at the rustic Oak Park bistro where there will be live music, colorful decor and a number of menu items and drink options to make you feel like you're in the Big Easy. Among the treats are mini muffulettas and Lobster Étouffée.

Chef/Partner Steve Chiappetti has put together a line-up of traditional dishes of Mardi Gras, including:
Mini Muffulettas ($4 each or 3 for $10)
Fried Oysters with Cajun Remoulade ($10)
Gulf Shrimp & Cake Walking Grits ($10)
Cheese & Gumbo ($10 – Marion Street meets Bourbon Street with mac & cheese-topped gumbo)
Lobster Étouffée ($15)
Bourbon Street Beans & Rice ($5)

Beverage Manager Heather Yargus also has curated some drink specials to pair along with those fabulous eats, including beer from Lazy Magnolias Brewing Company, Mississippi’s oldest brewery. Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale and Southern Hops’pitality IPA specialty beers are priced at $5.  

Cocktail specials featured are the Sazerac ($8): a staple of Mardi Gras in New Orleans made with locally distilled FEW Rye Whiskey; and the Hot in Rio($8): inspired by the legendary Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, made with Clément Premium Rhum.

For reservations, call (708) 725-7200 or visit

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Timbrook Kitchens

On a couple visits to the European Market in Chesterton and the Munster Farmers Market, I tried out some savory pies from Timbrook Kitchens and I was excited to see that they've opened a location nearby in Munster, In. It opened in November 2013, but I didn't make it there until this month. 

Timbrook Kitchens is open daily and on the weekends they open at 8 a.m. serving breakfast items, including home made cinnamon rolls. I stopped in recently in between mid-day appointments for a cup of soup. I tried the Pulled Pork Chili, which was excellent. It was paired with a slice of freshly made cornbread, which was incredible moist. I grabbed a couple slices of savory pie, including the Artichoke Chicken Pie, which was my favorite item I'd tried at the markets. I also brought home a very rich piece of Chocolate Peanut Butter pie that made a great late night treat. :) The interior is cute and cozy. 

You can purchase individual slices or full pot pies and Shepherd's Pie ($13) which feeds 3 to 4. They also have a nice daily special called "Whole Shebang," which includes two slices of savory pie or sandwich and is served with soup or salad, slice of dessert & beverage for $10 for dine in or carryout. Give them a try. It's a very nice departure from a fast food drive-thru if you don't want to cook. And it's perfect for this time of year - when hearty comfort food hits the spot.
For more info on specials, visit their website - Keep in mind that they do not take credit cards.

Timbrook Kitchens
17 Ridge Road
Munster, IN

Random meal of the week

It's time for another "Random Meal of the Week" post. I picked up some pre-seasoned lemon pepper basa from the seafood counter at Strack and Van 'Til and served it up with some long grain rice (and green beans, which hadn't made their way to my plate before I took this.)

Basa was new to me. The lady at the seafood counter described it as a Japanese white fish that "didn't taste at all like catfish and was more like orange roughy."

As I did a little poking, I learned that it is actually a catfish variety from Vietnam. The headlines on many other items that came up in a search spewed a lot of negative info on basa. It's hard to know what to believe, but this article was an interesting read. Like the author of this article, I tend to lean more toward the belief that it may not be for sale in American markets if it was so completely dangerous. I was leery of it because of the price, though At only $3.99 a pound, I wondered how good it would be.

My take was that it tasted pretty good, hubby didn't like the texture, one kid didn't like the peppery flavor and another kid scarfed it down so fast I don't think he even could tell you what it tasted like. :)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Kenosha to host first Restaurant Week

As we gear up for the start of Chicago Restaurant Week, I was excited to see that Kenosha is starting a restaurant week of their own. So, once you've explored some of the great eateries in Chicago over the next two weeks, consider hopping over the border to check out restaurant week in Kenosha. I definitely recommend Franks Diner...and the garbage plate! Here's all the details:

Downtown Kenosha Restaurant Week 
Makes Its Debut February 14-22

Discover a delectable dining scene near the shores of Lake Michigan in Downtown Kenosha, Wisconsin! Enjoy nine days of culinary adventure as you explore an array of restaurants offering delicious multi-course meals at tasty savings! The inaugural Downtown Kenosha Restaurant Week takes place February 14-22, 2015.
From elegant bistros to throwback diners, it’s a fun and delicious opportunity to explore Downtown Kenosha! Restaurants will offer special, fixed price menus for Breakfast ($10), Lunch ($10) and Dinner ($20 & $30). Plus there will be Sweets & Treats specials at specialty food shops. No tickets or coupons are required. Just visit a participating restaurant and ask for the Restaurant Week menu.

The participating restaurants and food shops are: Ashling on the Lough, Captain Mike's Beer & Burger Bar, Franks Diner, Harborside Common Grounds, Kaiser’s Pizza & Pub, Linnea Bakery, Mangia Wine Bar, Mike's Chicken & Donuts, Robin's Nest Cakery, Sandy's Popper, Sazzy B, Scoops Ice Cream, Sol D'Licious Café, TG's Restaurant & Pub, The Coffee Pot, Trolley Dogs, and Wine Knot Bar & Bistro. Visit for menus and more.
And that’s not all! Restaurant Week diners are invited to:
  • Dine & Win: Share your Restaurant Week adventures on Instagram and you can win dining gift cards! Visit the above website to learn more.
  • Dine & Stay: Make a weekend of it (or plan a mid-week getaway) to enjoy great food and great Kenosha sights! Check out the website for special Restaurant Week hotel rates and ideas for more fun in the Kenosha Area.
  • Dine & Give: Bring a donation of non-perishable food items when you visit any participating business during Restaurant Week to benefit Kenosha’s Shalom Center Food Pantry.
Downtown Kenosha Restaurant Week is presented by the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (KACVB), Downtown Kenosha, Inc., and Wisconsin Department of Tourism, and supported by local media partners: Kenosha News and AM1050 WLIP.

For more information about Downtown Kenosha Restaurant Week, visit: For more information about visiting the Kenosha Area, log on to the KACVB’s website:

The KACVB can also be reached at  (262) 654-7307 or (800) 654-7309. Follow Visit Kenosha on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube to receive updates about events and more. Kenosha’s I-94 Visitor Information Center is located at the southeast corner of I-94 and Hwy. 165, while the Downtown Center is located at 812 - 56th Street.

From the inbox: Champs to celebrate grand re-opening benefiting St. Baldrick's

Lots of good info in the inbox the past couple weeks, so I'm sharing another one. Champs in Lombard has gotten a makeover and they are launching the new look this Thursday. Also, 10 percent of sales that day will go to the St. Baldrick's Foundation. I love that! My two youngest boys, now 9 and 11, have participated in St. Baldrick's campaigns the past couple of years, raising money for childhood cancer research and shaving their heads. Great to see Champps helping out such a worthy charity as part of their celebration. Stop in and check out the new look.




LOMBARD, IL (January 2015) – Champps in Lombard is teaming up with the St. Baldrick's Foundation to celebrate the restaurant’s Grand Re-Opening.   Champps, located at 2301 Fountain Square Drive, is celebrating its brand new look, feel and flavor to benefit St. Baldrick’s on Thursday, January 29, 2015. 
The party begins at 6 p.m., when guests are invited to enjoy a complimentary sampling of Champps’ signature dishes, including Chicken Satay, Chipotle Burger, Ahi Tuna Taco and Calamari.   Signature drinks will be available for $2 each and include Grand Sangria, Island Rum Punch, Champps Long Island Tea and Craft Beer.

Champps will donate 10% of sales for the entire day to St. Baldrick’s.

Guests will notice new custom furniture for maximum comfort and communal dining; more high definition TVs for an amazing view from anywhere in the restaurant; a spectacular new bar and more.

"We are thrilled to be the beneficiary of Champps grand re-opening and are so grateful that they have chosen to support our efforts to find cures for childhood cancers,” said Kathleen Ruddy, St. Baldrick’s Foundation CEO. “Events like this provide an easy way for the community to get involved with a good cause, all while having a little fun. This is a perfect way to start the New Year, and we hope this is just one of many St. Baldrick’s fundraisers that will be held at Champps establishments. We invite everyone to come and show their support on January 29!”

Champps in Lombard offers 39 High Definition TVs; great games, including pool tables, darts, shuffleboard, fooseball and Giant Jenga; nearly 100 kinds of beer, including 42 beers on tap, 22 of which are craft beers and 11 which are local; and a new deliciously crafted menu for sharing, snacking as well as dining.

Champps in Lombard is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday – Thursday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday – Saturday. For more information, reservations or to book a private event, call Champps at (630) 627-3334, or visit us at on Facebook  and Twitter.

About St. Baldrick's Foundation
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a volunteer-driven charity committed to funding the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long and healthy lives.  St. Baldrick’s coordinates its signature head-shaving events worldwide where participants collect pledges to shave their heads in solidarity with kids with cancer, raising money to fund research.  Since 2005, St. Baldrick’s has awarded more than $154 million to support lifesaving research, making the Foundation the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants.  St. Baldrick’s funds are granted to some of the most brilliant childhood cancer research experts in the world and to younger professionals who will be the experts of tomorrow.  Funds awarded also enable hundreds of local institutions to participate in national pediatric cancer clinical trials, and the new International Scholar grants train researchers to work in developing countries.  For more information about the St. Baldrick’s Foundation please call 1.888.899.BALD or

About Champps
Champps owns and operates 26 restaurants in 13 states.  The sports oriented restaurant began over 30 years ago in Minnetonka, Minnesota and to this day maintains a comfortable venue for people to gather and watch a game, grab a bite to eat or socialize with a beverage.  Their state of the art kitchens and culinary expertise allow the restaurants to serve guests authentic, high-quality, hand-crafted, American cuisine inspired by their local communities.  With a full bar of beer, wine and spirits; an extensive menu; plenty of seating; and TVs for a high quality viewing experience, Champps is the perfect place for any occasion. 

Jelly's Pancake House in Merrillville, IN

It's been a while since I visited Jelly's Pancake House, which has locations in Merrillville and Dyer, Indiana. This past week I was there for a business lunch and was reminded of how good the breakfasts are and how charming the place is. Work from a local artist hangs on the walls and tea is served in these loose-leaf infusers. 

I got a hobo skillet, which was loaded with meat, eggs, potatoes, cheese and veggies - my favorite kind of breakfast dish. Delish!

Here's a peek at what some of the others at the table ordered:

And a look at some of the art that hangs throughout the restaurant and is for sale. :)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse

Good ol' Harry Caray really holds a special place in my heart. I was a kid in the 1980's and was raised by a big Cubs fan. Although my dad grew up in central Illinois surrounded by Cardinals fans, he said he fell in love with the Chicago Cubs in 1945 when he listed to them play in the World Series on the radio at age 9 and followed them in the Chicago newspaper that was delivered to their home. Dad's now 79 and I don't think he has a greater wish than to see the Cubs get to the World Series again.

Growing up, on weekdays we sometimes caught the end of a game after he got home from work and we were home from school. On weekends, we always tuned in to WGN listening for that favorite phrase of "Holy Cow" as a ball entered the outfield and headed over the brick, ivy-covered wall. It was uber delightful to hear Harry prep with "Uh one, uh two, uh three...Take me out to the ball game" in the middle of the 7th-inning, a tradition he started while announcing for the White Sox that he carried on to the Cubs and which still continues today at Wrigley Field and beyond. 

The 1984 Cubs were my team. I will never forget the elation of watching them clinch the division that year and Harry was there cheering with the best of them. Ok, so enough of my reminiscing. Let's just say that much of the reason I love the Cubs is because of my dad, but the other big reason is Harry Caray. He just made you love the game. Harry's the man. No doubt about it. 

So, last weekend my oldest son and I set out for the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Chicago. When I realized that most of the fun on Saturday wrapped up around 5 p.m. at the convention and there was a big gap before Cubs bingo was to begin at 8, I asked Brad if he'd like to head over to Harry Caray's for dinner. I called and was lucky to get an early reservation at 5. It was the first time for either of us heading there to dine.

You can't visit Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse without snapping a shot with the bust of Harry. Behind it hang photos of celebrities and politicians and it's fun to scan the frames to see who's been there before you.

So on to the food. I opted for the Three Course Prix Fixe menu at $52.95. It included a choice of salad, entree and dessert. I ordered a BLT wedge, which I really enjoyed. They do not skimp on the bleu cheese, which made it really awesome!

Brad ordered the cavatappi with grilled shrimp, which was one of the specials of the evening.

I love the presentation by our server (who I believe was named Don -- shout out to him!) He brought a tray out with the dry aged steaks and chops and gave a run down on each one. The steak was nothing short of beautiful. And yes it tasted as good as it looks - probably even better.

For dessert, I went for the key lime pie. Can't go wrong there. I was too full to finish it at the restaurant, so it went back to the hotel with me. And later that night, in my big, comfy hotel bed at the Palmer House Hilton in my comfy sheep jammies, I savored every bite of this delicious treat.

Had to get a shot of the "Holy Cow!"

The root beer (WBC) was incredibly good - smooth and vanilla-y like cream soda.

Don also took us to the lower level vault and told us about its link to Al Capone.

Dining at Harry Caray's Steakhouse was a fun experience and the food was amazing. It was a perfect dinner venue for a weekend full of Cubs fun and history and optimism. It's looking like it's going to be a good year. And Harry's got a pretty good seat for it!

Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse
33 W. Kinzie

Chicago Kernel cheese popcorn

I really have this huge love affair with cheese popcorn. I dig the regular popcorn at the movie theatre when you load it with butter and sprinkle it with salt. I know it's really bad for you -- and don't tell anyone that it's what I had for lunch today when I took my dad to see Night at The Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb.

Anyway, aside from the true movie theatre popcorn, the only kind I really like is the fresh, cheesy stuff. In my trips to Millennium station, I now have to pop in for a bag before I catch the train for home. If you stop on a Sunday, you get the bonus of a buy one, get the second bag 1/2 off!