Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Crock Pot Lasagna - easy and delish!

I love when my kids are eager to help me in the kitchen. My 9-year-old saw me pulling out ingredients to and jumped in to assist. His help was welcome since I was making a lasagna, which would need lots of mixing and layers.

As I've said before, I'm not ashamed to take shortcuts when I cook. I also learned from my mom to "doctor" things up, as she would say. So, I know there are simple things to add to make the more convenient stuff taste more homemade. I used sauce in a jar, but added a little garlic (the minced stuff in a jar with olive oil.) and some Italian seasoning.

Lasagna is one of those dishes that leaves much room for experimentation. So, I'll fill you in on how I made this batch. Leave out the stuff you don't like, substitute with what you do and make it your own.

I really don't make lasagna often because not too many of the people in my house like it. But, I do, so I figured even if only hubby and I eat it, it's worth it. And it was my first time this fall using my crock pot. I'd never done one in the crock pot before. I think that's another thing that keeps me from making it much is all the work involved in boiling the noodles.

Another shortcut to this dish is that I had cooked a couple pounds of ground Italian Johnsonville sausage for French bread pizzas a couple weeks ago. I put the leftover sausage in the freezer and pulled it out to use in the lasagna rather than taking the time to brown a pan of beef.

This was so easy!!!! I got the inspiration from watching a video of the Crockin' Girls online making a crock pot version of lasagna. I could not believe how easy it was. I will never boil lasagna noodles again!

1 1/2 jars pasta sauce
4 cups fresh spinach
15 oz. container Ricotta cheese
8 oz. bag Lasagna shredded blend (Romano, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Provolone)
3 tsp. grated Parmesan
1 tsp. minced garlic in olive oil (add to sauce)
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
8 oz. lasagna noodles
1 lb. browned Italian sausage
1 small can mushrooms

In a small bowl, blend the three cheeses and a teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Reserve about 1/2 cup of shredded cheese for top. Then start layering.

Here's how I did my layering:

Italian sausage
cheese blend
cheese blend
Extra cheese
Italian seasoning

I put mine in the crock pot on high for about 2 hours.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kids eat free for Sunday Brunch at Roka Akor

Here's another press release that popped up in my inbox recently. As a mom of five, I love to see when places do the kids eat free offers, especially when you have little ones with little appetites.


CHICAGO (October 2012) – Roka Akor Steak & Sushi’s new Sunday Brunch is reminiscent of a delicious all-you-can-eat feast, served Sundays, 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. at $39 per person. Bring the entire family for a great deal where kids ages 12 and under eat FREE! The menu features everything from the freshest premium sashimi and maki rolls to melt-in-your-mouth glazed pork ribs to exotic Japanese fresh fruits. When dining in the modern sake & shochu loungeRoka Akor offers three artfully prepared buffets of Japanese robata grill and sushi bar delights, as well as decadent sweets, such as Brownies with White Espresso Anglaise and Green Tea Custard.

Through it all, Roka Akor’s attentive wait staff will guide diners through the menu items and imbibe guests with unique Bloody Mary and Mimosa blends as well as carafes of sake from the barrel. Guests can also enjoy special values on their favorite a la carte items, such as theKumamoto Oysters, Prime Fillet with Poached Eggs & Hollandaise, and Wagyu Avocado Burger with Sweet Potato Skewers.

Roka Akor, owned by JNK Concepts, is located in the heart of Chicago’s River North neighborhood at 456 N. Clark. The restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday andSunday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner is served Sunday through Wednesday from 5 to 11 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. The Sake & Shochu Lounge is open Sunday through Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Thursday and Friday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. For more information about Roka Akor, please call (312) 477-7652 or visit  or the restaurant’s Facebook andTwitter pages.

JNK Concepts was founded in 2008 by Dr. John N. Kapoor, whose passion for global cuisine inspired him to open Roka Akor in Scottsdale, Arizona. Since then, the company's portfolio has grown to include five restaurants in the Phoenix market: Roka Akor andBombay Spice, both owned solely by JNK Concepts, as well as Nobuo at Teeter House,Puro Gelato and Los Taquitos Mexican Grill, which are owned in partnership with several Phoenix-based restaurateurs. Most recently, JNK Concepts celebrated the expansion of its Roka Akor and Bombay Spice brands upon the restaurants' July 2011 openings in Chicago's River North neighborhood. JNK Concepts anticipates opening another Roka Akor in San Francisco in 2013. For more information, visit

Wine tasting with Svengoolie

Here in Chicagoland we have this Saturday night program called "Svengoolie." It airs at 9 p.m. on WCIU. Svengoolie is the host and each week, they air a horror or sci-fi flick, often a black and while classic dating back to the 30's or 40's. It's become the tradition in our house to all snuggle together my husband, five sons and I) on the sofa on Saturday night and watch together.

Rich Koz plays Svengoolie and has been since 1979, first known as "Son of Svengoolie" as the original Svengoolie, Jerry G. Bishop first appeared as Sven in 1970. His show includes comedy bit, song parodies and trivia about the actors and producers of the films.

This time of year Koz is out and about in Chicagoland doing appearances. Last Halloween I took my two youngest boys to meet him. Wow...I hadn't realized how popular he is. We waited in line for about 3 hours to meet him and get his signature on a rubber chicken. Yes, a rubber chicken. For some reason, rubber chickens are thrown around during his broadcasts. The kids were thrilled.

This past summer, the Theatre at the Center in Munster was running a production of Little Shop of Horrors and before one of the performances, Sven was there for a wine tasting. I got tickets for my husband and I. It was a fun time. For about $20 we got samples of about a dozen wines and several beers and well as appetizers. And we got a chance to take a picture with Sven and tell him how much him and his show mean to our family - it's the one time each week where we all stop what we're doing and spend some time together. And of course, there is food. Hubby likes milk and cookies while he watches. We often pop popcorn. And sometimes there's a little snack buffet or we order a pizza. It's like Halloween all year long with Sven on the TV.

There are always interesting people in the crowd when he makes an appearance. We sat with this cute couple. Notice the shirts! :)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Martin Miller's Gin now available in Chicago

Got this press release in my box over the weekend and thought it might be of interest to some of my Chicago foodie friends! :)

Best known for his famous antique guides and his collection of country house hotels, Britain iconoclast, Martin Miller is a leader of his industry and is now bringing his world famous Martin Miller’s Gin to Chicago! Taking over some of Chicago’s hottest bars includingBar Deville, Matchbox, Gilt Bar, The Drawing Room and Fish Bar, Martin Miller’s Gin is the perfect partner for just about any cocktail. Made with the best ingredients, distilled by the most traditional methods and blended with pure Icelandic spring water, we would love to send you a sample of Martin Miller’s Gin and set up a feature!

From starting a mail-order dating book called “Success with the Fairer Sex” as a school boy to launching his legendary “Miller’s Antique Price Guides” to owning a string of successful boutique hotels in London and now to creating Martin Miller’s Gin, a gin that has grown at an average rate of 100% per year, Miller revolutionizes every industry he ventures into. Born of “Love, Obsession and some degree of Madness,” Martin Miller’s Gin balances the crisp flavor of juniper with the sweetness of citrus and the coolness of cucumber. The following link is a behind the scenes look at the inception of Martin Miller’s Gin:!
Founder Martin Miller was left unsatisfied by sad looking gin & tonics and limp looking lemon slices. Setting out to re-invent the quintessential British tipple, Miller created a gin that was made with not only the best ingredients but distilled by using only the most traditional methods. Unlike all but a handful of gins, Martin Miller’s batch is distilled, like malt whiskey, using a traditional pot still method. Miller’s employs two separate distillations- one for juniper and earthy botanicals and one for the citrus peels. In the process of the distilling, they keep only the “heart” of the spirit and it is shipped off to Iceland to be blended with the purest, unprocessed spring water to create a marriage of rare softness, clarity of taste and appearance. 
Martin Miller’s Gin’s familiar botanicals—juniper, coriander, angelica, and Florentine Iris- coupled with the more unusual cassia, cinnamon bark, and liquorice, are blended with Seville orange peel and lime. It is also the first gin to use cucumber in its recipe as a ‘functional ingredient’ giving Martin’s Gin its unique and characteristic long, dry and fresh finish.
With no advertising behind them and still proudly independent, Martin Miller is a titan of industry, with Martin Miller’s Gin growing at an average rate of 100% per year in China, Middle East, Australia, Southeast Asia and Spain. This huge growth rate in Spain is mirrored in the US.  Martin Miller’s Gin was the first of the “new wave” of gins and entered the market in 1999.  It has earned the most top awards of any other premium gin including taking home two out of three possible gold medals in the blind-tasting 10th Anniversary Strength gins by the International Spirits Challenge. At this year’s Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Convention, Martin Miller’s Gin took home Double Gold in the Spirits Tasting Competition, Best Gin in Show and Best White Spirit in Show!

Smashmouth Burgers hosting Halloween event

I just wanted to share this press release that popped up in my in-box for a fun Halloween event for kids at the Schererville, IN Smashmouth Burgers & Pizza location. Hope everyone has a yummy Halloween!

Smashmouth Burgers & Pizza 2nd Annual Trick-n-Eat

Join us at this un-scary event ideal for kids. We'll have a candy buffet for the little ones, sponsored by Chartees, and prizes for every child in a costume.

Plus each and every guest, parents and kids, will get one complimentary Smash (our signature 2 oz. mini burger). Frighteningly fun and delish!

When: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
5:00pm until 6:00pm

Where: SmashMouth Burgers & Pizza, 764 E US Rte. 30, Schererville, IN 46375(at Cline and 30 in Cline Commons).

RSVP required. RSVP via email to Please include the number of children attending in your group.


Taste of First

On Friday, I stopped by a local church, First Reformed, for a tasty fundraiser. Proceeds went to the PASS Pregnancy Care Center and the Angel Academy Preschool. Tickets were available for just 50 cents each! Most of the items were 1 ticket. There were a few entrees: cabbage and noodles, sloppy joe, lasagna, chili, Caribbean-style turkey, chicken salad, etc.

I'm looking at the list of servers who made the wonderful homemade dishes. Here's a few of the items on the list:

broccoli and cheese soup
Veggie Pizza
Mac and Chesse
Italian potato and tomato casserole
Chicken tortilla soup
Oreo truffles
caramel rolls
cookie dough brownies
key lime pie
and the list goes on!

There were 40 items listed. This was the 3rd year for the fundraiser. I'll be sure to mark my calendar to hit it again next year.

Take a look at some of the goodies:

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Make your way to Munster's Mishikenut for Mediterranean cuisine

About three years ago, a new eatery popped up in Munster along Ridge Road, right next to a popular burger joint called Schoop's. I was intrigued by the word "Mediterranean" on the sign. I had never been to such a place. I do like lamb and from glancing at a menu, it looked like there were several lamb dishes. I was anxious to try it out.

Once when I was heading out for lunch with my husband I suggested it. We ended up at Hooter's.
My adventurous foodie sister was visiting earlier this year when we were heading to a movie together. We also wanted to get a bite to eat, but time ran short and we didn't make it Mishekenut, but grabbed a rueben at Foodie's MarketCafe in Dyer. My dad lives right down the street from the restaurant and for quite some time, I've been bugging him to go there with me. However, he is pretty much the opposite of adventurous. He knows what he likes and he chooses not to stray from those familiar dishes. Mention the word hummus and he'd make a face like a 5-year-old being offered brussel sprouts or spinach. Not that he'd ever even tried it. He just didn't like the sound of it.

So, I've since been on the hunt for someone to accompany me there for a meal. And I did - my friend, Michelle. We get together on occasion for breakfast or lunch and ever since I mentioned it to her, she has been as eager as me to try it out. She, on the other hand, was pretty familiar with the menu and has eaten Mediterranean food in the past.

So, finally the two of us made it there and we had a belated birthday lunch for Michelle's birthday, which was last month.

So, as we opened the menu, we first set our sights on the appetizers. I wanted to try out as many as possible, so we ordered a bunch of appetizers and called it a day (even if it did take us a half hour to completely make up our minds.)

Michelle recomended the Baba Ghanouj - a pureed eggplant with tahini, lemon and garlic. I also detected a bit of heat...turned out that dash of green was a jalapeno sauce. It was served with warmed pita bread. Wow! And look at all that olive oil splattered on top.

We also decided to try the falafel. The sound of fried chick peas didn't fighten me like it did my dad. At first, I noticed the striking resemblance to hush puppies. :) These were superb...golden brown and served with a tahini sauce.

Then, rather than order entrees, we went with the Mishkenut Sampler, which allows you to choose two or three of the following: fried kibbeh, grape leaves, prune rolls and spinach pie. We opted to leave out the prune rolls.

The grape leaves were fantastic. I was trying to figure out a way to work a little lamb into the meal without ordering a huge entree and this hit the spot - grape leaves with a lamb and rice filling.

The spinach pie caught me a a little off guard. For some reason, I was expecting a spinach and ricotta filling, but it turned out to be spinach and lemon inside, which threw me off, but pleased me, too.

This was the fried kibbeh, something I hadn't even heard of before. It was ground beef, onions and pine nuts covered in a cracked wheat coating.

A peek inside...

And as our bill was being totalled, I commented that I really wanted something sweet, but not something huge and super rich. It made my day when the bill was brought, accompanied by these. Dark chocolate covered almonds....homemade right there.

I enjoyed everything we tried out and there's nothing I had that I wouldn't order again. On the next visit, I'd really like to try some of the salads or perhaps a sandwich.

I love the story behind the place. The charming young man who waited on us chatted with us about the place. Turned out he was the owner's son. His sister was also hard at work in the kitchen. Turns out that his dad, Abe Hinnawi, worked in his uncle's restaurant in West Jerusalem in the 1970's. The customer base included government officers and celebrities. He even waited on Gerald Ford and Carol O'Connor when he worked there. His dream was always to open his own place and that's just what he did. His son said that there may even be another location opening in the future in the west suburbs.

He explained that his father is currently out of the country. Why? It's olive picking season. I love hearing great stories like this in these small family owned places. The family owns land in Jerusalem and they go there to press their own olive oil and ship it back to be used in the restaurant. He talked about the tedious season he spent there picking olives with his relatives. They also sell the bottled olive oil in the store - $11.99 for a 12-ounce bottle.

Some of the other menu items are lamb shanks, shawerma, smoked salmon, lasagna, kabobs, veal medallions with tomatoes and olives. I'm looking forward to returning soon to try out more new dishes! 

Mishkenut Mediterranean Cuisine
221 Ridge Rd.
Munster, IN

Make a mummy cake for Halloween

Last year at the Cub Scout Blue and Gold banquet, the theme for the cake contest was monsters. One of the boys decided to do a mummy cake. So, we made a big sheet in yellow, trimmed around to make a mummy shape. We put it on a full chocolate sheet and then used some of the remaining pieces to shape a coffin around him. My son used a frosting knife to add the appearance of bandages. Then for some reason he wanted to trim it all out with whipped cream...which was soon oozing all over the place. But, all in all, not bad for a first grader. It was his idea and he did much of the work himself. makes a perfect cake for this time of year. Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tortilla pizzas are fast and easy

Pizza used to be something we'd have when we ordered from an area pizzeria and had it delivered to the house. Occasionally  I'd make a frozen pizza for the kids. However, in the past couples years, especially as I've started making more meals on the grill, I've found how easy it is to make your own and how good it tastes with fresh ingredients. I love using flatbread for a crust....or French bread or English muffins or tortillas.

When I do them on the grill, I use two as a base so it holds up better under all those toppings. Some favorite toppings of mine are tomatoes, spinach, bacon, mushrooms and green peppers.

The kids go for a simple cheese and pepperoni version.

How about you? What do you lik on top? And what's your favorite kind of crust?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Twilight Party

So, Becky, the other half of the Chicago Foodie Sisters is a big fan of Harry Potter and Twilight and often has these themed viewing parties at her house. I was sorting through pics today and came across these from a Twilight Party she had around this time last year.

I had never seen any of the movies and in preparation of the party read the first book and part of the second. I don't read much fiction. When I find time to read, I usually enjoy biographies, but I got hooked in on the Twilight series pretty quickly. So, now I'm all caught up and am looking forward to the release of the final movie next month.

Becky always puts out a nice spread for her parties and has decor to match the theme. So, here's a look:

 I still can't decide if I'm team Edward or team Jacob. :)


And Becky often orders Nancy's Pizza for get-togethers at her house, which always excites me because it's super yummy and there's no a location on the south side near me. 

And here's the Chicago Foodie Sisters! :)