Monday, September 30, 2013

Artisan Table's Honey Media Dinner

I'm backlogged a bit and haven't had a chance to report on the fabulous Honey Media Dinner I attended last week with my husband and my niece Kelly, who has joined our blogging team, and her husband. It was held at Artisan Table, which is located inside the Chicago Marriott Naperville.

I will get a full post up soon, but just wanted to tease you a bit with some photos. I LOVE how Chef  Sean Curry and Pastry Chef Erica Tomei bring subtle hints of honey into the dishes without it being overpowering. The honey comes from a source as local as you can possibly get - the hotel's rooftop. So, skim through the pictures and there will be more to come!

Beverage choices go beyond coffee at Denny's

On a recent visit to Denny's to sample the Build Your Own Pancakes menu, I had the chance to also try out some beverages. I tried a Groovy Mango smoothie, which was wonderful. I'm a big smoothie fan and this is one of the best I have had. It was smooth and creamy with a frothy consistency. It was on a rotating menu of smoothies. The two regular flavors are Strawberry Banana Bliss and Orange Grove.

Also, there are a variety of coffee drinks beyond the regular cup of Joe. I also tried a sample of the Frosty Roast. I am not a coffee drinker, so I don't normally offer coffee drinks. I am however, a huge fan of tiramisu - I love the coffee flavor when it's in a decadent dessert like that even if I don't normally drink it right out of a mug. The Frosty Roast is something coffee related that I would definitely order even not being a regular coffee drinker. Like a smoothie, it has that frothy top that I love and it seems more like a slushie or a milkshake than a coffee beverage.

The Frosty Roast and Iced Coffee are permanent menu items that were added earlier this year. The coffee drink menu will also have some limited time flavors that will rotate and currently that temporary resident on the menu is Vanilla Hazelnut Iced Coffee.

You'll also find some fun lemonade drinks on the menu and a few milkshakes that will be hard to pass up, like the new limited-time Chocolate Peanut Butter Milk Shake. View the full beverage menu at

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Goodbye 'til next year, ball park dog

If you've followed this blog for a while, you may know that we sisters are Cubs fans...none more than our sis, Jen, who is a season ticket holder. But I spend a few days each season in those familiar seats taking in a game at Wrigley Field. I'm not big on hot dogs, but how can you go the ball game and not get a hot dog? Most games I grab one from the vendor walking by. Sometimes I take a walk to get one and grab some cheese fries, too. My favorite meal at the Friendly Confines is still the Italian sausage and beef combo, but sometimes I'm not quite hungry enough for one or don't feel like treking down under the press box on the upper deck to get one from the stand there. Anyway, I'll miss the dogs this bye for now...until next year. We Cubs fans always seem to be talking about next year, odn't we? :)

P.S. Darned camera - I think the date reset on me???

The Handle Bar: Indianapolis, IN

On a recent trip to Indianapolis, I stumbled across this while exiting a restaurant. While drinking and driving is a no-no, you're able to drink and pedal on this 16-seat vehicle. The company supplies the driver. You bring the booze. You can rent in two-hour increments and split the cost between the group, which can break down to as low as $19. You can bring your own music and although they have a pre-set route, they can often accommodate other stops to customize the trip. I'm sure they keep busy with bachelor and bachelorette parties. 

I haven't heard about anything like this around the Windy City. Perhaps there are laws in Illinois or the city that prohibit it. It does look like a fun time, though, don't you think?

Visit for more information.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Santa's Candy Castle: Santa Claus, Indiana

On our getaway this past weekend to Santa Claus, Indiana, one of our stops was Santa's Candy Castle. Santa Claus is an uber charming place in Southern, Indiana that also happens to be the hometown of Chicago Bears's quarterback, Jay Cutler.

The small town's main attraction is a theme park and water park called Holiday World that draws way more people daily than live in the area. As you can imagine, in a town called Santa Claus, they really play up the Christmas theme. You'll find Santa everywhere no matter what time of year it is. There are Santa statues everywhere and everything has Christmas-related names. The campground resort we stayed at is called Lake Rudolph, which is located next to Holiday World and covers a pretty large area with street names like Garland and Snowball.

When we stopped in Santa's Candy Castle, we were surprised by another Chicago connection. The owner is from Chicagoland and ended up in Santa Claus restoring this lovely 1930's structure and opening a candy store that has everything from fudge to gourmet popcorn to every kind of PEZ dispenser you can think of, along with gift items like ornaments, Red Ryder BB guns and Bobbleheads of characters from "A Christmas Story." Believe it or not, his last name is Klosowski (pronounced Claus-ow-ski), so it sounds like it's where he's meant to be.

While I was there, I tried out one of these - a frozen hot chocolate made with their gourmet hot chocolate and topped with whipped cream. It was so good that I had to make a stop there the next day for one and I have been craving it ever since. I wish I had his secret formula to try it out at home. It is actually a good thing I live hundreds of miles away because I could see this place becoming a daily stop for me. :) I don't drink coffee, so if I have a morning cup of something it is either tea or hot chocolate.

I also happened to walk in just as someone was finishing up a food challenge that Santa's Candy Castle hosts. More on that in another post. Visit to order online!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Oceanique in Evanston to host wine dinner

Hi, foodie friends. Just sharing another announcement from the inbox on an upcoming wine dinner at the Oceanique Restaurant in Evanston. Read on for the specifics...

Oceanique To Host Dourthe Bordeaux Wine Dinner, September 30

Evanston, Ill. (September 2013)-Oceanique Restaurant, 505 Main Street, Evanston, Illinois (847-864-3435), will host a special wine dinner at 7:30 p.m., Monday, September 30, 2013, featuring the wines of the highly acclaimed Vins & Vignobles Dourthe from Bordeaux, France. Patrick Jestin, President of Dourth, will be the special host, discussing the history of the winery and the uniqueness and quality of the wines. The dinner will feature a 6-course menu prepared by chef/owner Mark Grosz. The price is $195 per person, excluding tax and gratuity.

Dourthe was founded in 1840 and is considered by many to be one of the finest in the Bordeaux region of France. The winery was honored in 2007 as Best Producer of French wine by the international competition of Wine & Spirits. With vineyards in the Médoc, Saint-Estèphe, Pessac-Léognan and Saint-Emilion areas of Bordeaux, Dourthe produces distinctive wines using sustainable methods, with the goal of being standard bearers of the appellation.

"This is going to be an exciting and unique experience," said Oceanique's wine director, Philippe André. "Dourthe is a very special Bordeaux winemaker in that they own vineyards in several areas of Bordeaux, unlike most Bordeaux vintners who have only one vineyard. Because the Dourthe team is so familiar with the variances in soil and climate of the entire Bordeaux region, they are able to bring subtle knowledge to the process of blending. The result is a collection of wines that are the ultimate expression of Bordeaux."

Dourthe Wine Dinner Menu

Heirloom Tomato Amuse
Wine: N.V. Thienot Brut  

First Course
Wild Maine Lobster      Buffalo Mozzarella        Basil      AvocadoWine Pairing: 2011 Dourthe La Grande Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc

Second Course Wild Maine Day Boat Scallops    Lobster-Soy Broth    Kimchi      Cilantro
     Wine Pairing: 2010 Château La Garde Blanc - Pessac-Léognan  

Third Course
Organic Faroe Islands    Salmon Butternut Squash     Turmeric     Leeks    Port Essence
Wine Pairings: 2010 Château La Garde Rouge - Pessac-Léognan & 2010 Château Belgrave - Haut-Médoc  

Fourth Course
Litchi Sorbet   Fifth Course Prime Filet Mignon Belgian Endive     Spinach    Chanterelles
Wine Pairings: 2005 Essence de Dourthe & 2008 Essence de Dourthe  

Sixth Course
Warm Raspberry Tarte     Lemon Balm Ice Cream    

About Oceanique
Oceanique, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2014 (February 5, 2014), is one of the Chicago area's finest and most acclaimed restaurants, serving contemporary French-American cuisine in a beautiful, new dining room. The restaurant is owned by Chef Mark Grosz and his wife, Renée André. The Pastry Chef is Abel Garcia and the Wine Director is Philippe André. The bar area has been expanded and features a new small plates menu to accompany the fine selection of wines, craft beers and artisan cocktails. Guests are encouraged to enjoy a casual meal in the bar area or enjoy the full à la carte and dégustation menus in the dining room. The bar even includes a communal table to encourage single dining or groups.  

Oceanique serves dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday and from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. Valet parking is available and all major cards are accepted. A private room is available for group events. For more information or to make reservations, please contact Oceanique at 847-864-3435 or visit the website

Get a taste of Italy in Rosemont

Just passing on a press release from my inbox for this place in Rosemont, which sounds wonderfully authentic and delicious:

(Rosemont, IL)- Cibo Racconto, a casual Italian restaurant that showcases family recipes and fine ingredients from Italy, offers top-quality cuisine at value-driven prices in Rosemont, the fast-growing near northwest suburb of Chicago. The charming eatery, which is conveniently located near Rosemont attractions such as O'Hare International Airport, Allstate Arena, and the Rosemont Theatre, is the restaurant offshoot of Racconto, an Italian food import company started by the Mugnolo family in 1958 and incorporated in 1973. The company is now Chicagoland's top-selling imported Italian pasta brand.

The warm and welcoming neighborhood restaurant, which celebrated its second anniversary this September, serves lunch and dinner dishes translated from recipes that have been handed down through the generations. Truly a family affair, Cibo Racconto owner Lee Mugnolo, his wife Deanna, and their family create signature dishes that lovingly reflect their Italian heritage. Mugnolo has been involved in several successful Chicago-area Italian restaurants, including the acclaimed Trattoria Peppino in near west suburban Elmwood Park, Cucina Paradiso in Oak Park, and Nonno Pino in the Edison Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Cibo Racconto's extensive menu highlights include the hearty porchetta sandwich ($7.99) inspired by the panini stands of Italy; lumache arrosto ($8.99), snail-shaped pasta topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, ricotta cheese, roasted red peppers, and grilled Italian sausage; and the panizza ($5.99-$6.99), a panini-pizza hybrid stuffed with a choice of spinach and garlic, four cheeses, prosciutto and pesto, and chicken and oven-roasted tomatoes. Pizza selections consist of both a brick-oven thin-crust variety as well as a traditional bread crust with an array of tasty toppings. Decadent desserts include a rotating selection of cakes, cookies, and pastries, as well as 16 different gelatos all made in house.

Mugnolo's father, Andrea, founded Racconto Imports in 1973, bringing top-quality authentic Italian food products such as pastas, sauces, olive oil, vinegars, and condiments to the United States. Racconto, which means "story" in Italian, tells the tale of Italy through its diverse and delicious cuisine. Racconto products are used in the dishes served at Cibo Racconto and are also available for sale in the restaurant.

Cibo Racconto offers weekly specials such as $5 glasses of wine on Tuesdays and a $20 dinner-for-two deal after 4:00 p.m. on Wednesdays. The restaurant features several catering options, including boxed lunches, specialty sandwich platters, sides and salads, pastas, entrées, and desserts. A daytime delivery service also provides flavorful and convenient lunches to nearby businesses. A heated patio is open year 'round, seating 35 guests and available for private parties of all kinds. All major credit cards are accepted. For more info, call 847.699.2020, visit the website at www.ciboracconto.comtweet at@ciboracconto, or keep up on Facebook


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fresh Garden Veggie Soup

With lots of garden veggies sitting on the counter, I decided to do some chopping and throw in some stuff from the farm stand visit and make a big pot of soup. Soup is one of those things where I don't really measure...I just kind of throw things in until it seems complete. And you can adjust soups to add or delete anything you do or don't like. It's one of the most versatile dishes around! So, here's what went into this pot (with approximate measurements):

10 cups water
5 beef bouillon cubes
1 can diced, seasoned chili-style tomatoes
1 banana pepper
1 green pepper
1/2 zucchini diced
8 salsa tomatoes, diced
1/2 head cabbage, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
8 baby carrots, sliced
About a 1/2 cup frozen corn
About a 1/2 cut frozen green beans
Italian seasoning
Garlic salt
Minced onion

First boil water and bouillon. Add all fresh veggies. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Add frozen veggies and can of tomatoes and seasonings. Simmer another 15 minutes and serve. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Harvet Snaps Snapea Crisps

The folks at Harvest Snaps were kind enough to send me a big box of products to sample from their healthy snack line, which includes four flavors of Snapea Crips and two flavors of Lentil Snaps. The snacks are made from 70% whole peas (65% lentils on the two lentil flavors.) With less fat and fewer calories than chips, the crisps also are higher in fiber and lower in sodium.

A comparison chart on the package indicates what a huge difference you'll find in the crisps as compared to potato chips. 6 g of fat vs. 10 g in potato chips. The crisps have 80 mg of sodium, while potato chips have 170 mg in a one-ounce serving.

So, if they are this healthy, could they actually be good? They can. I opened one of the six bags to take a taste - it was the salted flavor pictured below. Not bad. The crisps are far from bland and because they are airy with a consistency similar to a puffy cheese curl, it's something that kids may even easily embrace. We'll try out the other flavors in the coming days and I'll fill you on on the rest.

Harvest Snaps products can be found at select Walmart Supercenters, Dominick's, 7-11, Costco, Lowe's and Whole Food Markets. Visit and enter your zip code to find the closest stores to you that carry Harvest Snaps. Also, find them on Facbook and Twitter.

Bakersfield: Indianapolis, Indiana

On a recent press trip to Indianapolis, our hostess, Kimberly, brought the group out for dinner at Bakersfield, a tex-mex place on trendy Mass Ave. The menu is short and sweet - a handful of appetizers, a couple salads, a couple tortas and tacos. That's all they need to wow you. Oh, and the cocktails are not to be missed, especially if you have a fondness for margaritas.

The queso and guacamole were excellent - loved the red radish garnish with the guac!

After munching and dipping, out came the main attraction - the tacos, which were well worth waiting for. I tried the short rib taco, which impressed me and then I tried the fish taco, which amazed me. It featured crispy mahi with lime tabasco and citrus slaw. Should you be in the Indy area, take in a meal at Bakersfield, which is open for lunch and dinner.

334 Massachusetts Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 

Denny's introduces Build Your Own Omelette menu

Last month I stopped by Denny's and wrote this post about the Build Your Own Pancake menu. Well, the pancake menu has moved on, but the good news is that it departed to make way for another "Build Your Own" menu. Starting August 28, Denny's debuted the Build Your Own Omelette menu, which, like the pancakes, will be for a limited time. Here's the press release I received about it, so that you can get all the info on this fun, customizable menu that lets you create an egg dish just the way you like it!

America’s Diner celebrates a breakfast classic with endless omelette creations
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (Aug. 28, 2013) – Denny’s is elevating a diner breakfast favorite with the launch of its customizable “Build Your Own Omelette” menu. For a limited time only, guests may create thousands of possible eggciting combinations and build a breakfast masterpiece of their own from countless fillings and tasty toppings to satisfy any savory craving.

“Eggs are synonymous with breakfast and a standout ingredient in some our most famous dishes,’” said John Dillon, @DillonJohnW, vice president of marketing for Denny’s. “With our new #BYOomelette menu we wanted to honor this long-standing diner favorite, while offering our guests even more of the customization and creativity they enjoy.”

Guests may create a work of art with their omelette, selecting from a choice of ‘start up,’ a three egg omelette with a choice of cheese, ‘double up,’ featuring two additional fillings, or ‘load up,’ offering four additional ingredients for eggstremely hungry diners. All options come with hash browns or grits and a choice of toast, biscuit or English muffin to complement your tasty creation. With plenty of delicious ingredients to choose from, guests will have no problem building an omelette exactly the way they like; from smoky cheese blends and chorizo sausage, avocado and diced ham, or even healthier options like turkey bacon - the possibilities are endless.

Diners not in the mood to get creative can choose from a delicious selection of Denny’s signature omelette designs, such as the new Chorizo Tortilla OmeletteFit Fare® Loaded Veggie Omelette or the tasty Bacon Avocado Omelette. A freshly brewed cup of Denny’s Signature Diner Roast, including new vanilla or toasty hazelnut flavors, offers the perfect complement to any omelette.

For cravings beyond breakfast, guests may enjoy one of three delicious new dishes, including the hearty Build Your Own Sampler appetizer, tender Prime Rib Cobb salad, or the USDA select Sirloin Steak, which serves as a healthy alternative when served with Fit Fare® sides.

For an indulgent ending any time of day, guests may choose from a variety of sweet treats including the new Double Chocolate Pancake Puppies® with Peanut Butter SauceChocolate Peanut Butter Milk Shake or a budget-friendly bite with the Mini Banana Split at just $2 from the $2,4,6,8 Value Menu™. For a rich and refreshing finish, diners may enjoy the cool and creamy Frosty Roast or the new Iced Coffee for a tasty way to perk up the day.

What’s more, guests can give back as they enjoy their eggs by contributing to the brand’s fundraising efforts in collaboration with America’s Egg Farmers and Share Our Strength. Kicking off Sept. 1 through Oct. 31, visit any of the 1,200 participating Denny’s nationwide and donate $3 directly to Share Our Strength’s “No Kid Hungry®” program and receive up to a $9 value on Denny’s diner favorites. Plus, for every “Build Your Own Omelette” purchased Sept. 9 through Sept. 15, America’s Egg Farmers will donate one egg on behalf of Denny’s guests to a “No Kid Hungry®” partner to help alleviate childhood hunger in America.

Launched nationwide today, the “Build Your Own Omelette” menu is available all day, every day with prices starting at just $5.99; the menu includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and late-night items.

About Denny's Corp.
Denny's is one of America's largest full-service family restaurant chains, currently operating more than 1,680 franchised, licensed and company-owned restaurants across the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, Guam, Puerto Rico and New Zealand. For further information on Denny's, including news releases, please visit the Denny's website at or the brand’s social channels via FacebookTwitterTumblrPinterestInstagram  or YouTube.
About the American Egg Board (AEB)
AEB connects America’s egg farmers with consumers, communicates the value of The incredible edible egg™ and receives funding all egg production from companies with more than 75,000 hens in the continental United States.
Visit for more information.

About Share Our Strength’s Dine Out For No Kid Hungry
Share Our Strength’s Dine Out For No Kid Hungry™ is a national fundraising event that brings together thousands of restaurants and millions of consumers to help make sure no child in America grows up hungry. Every September, participating restaurants raise funds in a variety of ways to support the No Kid Hungry® campaign to end childhood hunger in America. Since summer 2011, the No Kid Hungry campaign has helped provide 34 million additional meals to kids in need. Visit

The Grown-up Kiddie Cocktail

Whenever we are at a banquet or wedding or event with a bar, my kids are always asking for a kiddie cocktail. It's just lemon-lime soda and grenadine syrup or cherry juice. When I ran into the liquor store recently to pick up some beer for a barbecue, I spotted the little vodka bottles on the counter and the cherry vodka made me think of kiddie cocktails. So, I thought I'd make up a kiddie cocktail of my own. :) It's a kiddie cocktail with a kick. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Blackfinn Ameripub opens this week

Just wanted to share this restaurant opening that was in my inbox. Sounds like a fun new place with an eclectic menu. Take a look:


... is excited to offer the thriving River North neighborhood its classic American food, quality drinks and vibrant, high-energy atmosphere when its doors officially open on September 19.

Blackfinn brings a relaxed and casual vibe to River North, with a concept that is driven by a passion for hosting, having fun and offering a broad menu where guests can expect craveable dishes that focus on flavor, quality and value. - and most importantly - personal choice. The menu, which ranges from flatbreads and burgers, to signature entrees and pasta, is designed around personal choice for guests, with customizable sides and highlighted gluten-free and gluten-free-optional items. Other highlights of the menu include weekend brunch with the not-to-be-missed Blackfinn Bacon Mary ($8) and a Mon-Fri lunch addition that features 20+ options under $10, like Chicken Parmesan, Goat Cheese, Strawberry & Pecan Salad and Crab Cake Sliders, making it the perfect choice for the downtown lunch crowd seeking their midday escapes.

With over 100 taps that include Chicago favorites like Goose Island, Two Brothers and Revolution Brewing, Blackfinn will also serve as an ideal location for drinks with coworkers after work or for the late-night River North regulars. Blackfinn's signature cocktails are all made with fresh-squeezed juices, with two of the team's favorites available on tap -- Tito's Chi-Town Mule and Blackfinn Iced Tea.

Blackfinn Ameripub
65 West Kinzie Street
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 836-0290

Opening September 19
Monday-Friday: 11am - 2am
Saturday: 10:30am- 3am
Sunday: 10:30am- 2am

Savoring the final summer meals

Well, we've passed Labor Day, that "unofficial" end of summer and the "official" end of summer is just days away now. Soon it will be too chilly and windy to enjoy meals out on the patio that have been cooking on the grill.

Now that the air conditioning is off, I'm transitioning back to inside cooking. In the past couple days I have made soup, quiche, pie, chili and some skillet meals that I haven't made in months.

Over the weekend, we enjoyed some steak on the grill. These were Schwan's ones that I'd had in the freezer. It is my understanding that their steak supplier is Omaha Steaks and these boxes packages I get from Schwan's are excellent.

It was served along side a baked Yukon gold with sour crea, cheese, bacon bits and chives, some cremini mushrooms with onions and peas. Good stuff. Might be a while before I have a meal like this again.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Labriola Bakery Cafe: Oak Brook, Illinois

I'm a huge fan of Labriola products. It's an Alsip-based bakery that makes wonderful Artisan breads. I've picked them up often at a farm stand near my house, at the area farmer's markets and at Foodie's Market Cafe in Dyer (where most of their sandwiches are made on Labriola breads.) One of my very favorite items is the pretzel rolls.

Foodie Sister Becky has been telling me about Labriola Bakery Cafe in Oak Brook for quite some time and I finally made it out there to have lunch with her. The place is overflowing with carbohydrates of every kinds. There are also gourmet soups, gelato and Neapolitan pizzas.

The upscale decor makes it feel like a classier version of a Panera location. It's called a cafe, but feels more luxurious. I love the fireplace at the entrance.

I tried out a soup and salad combo with a kale and strawberry salad.

My half sandwich was a Tavern Ham & Swiss on brioche. 

Had to have some of those delicious pretzel rolls.

Becky has the steak sandwich on baguette. I had to snatch a little piece - LOVED it!

And then if you dare cross over to the other side of the building, this is what awaits you...

And here's a shot of the sisters, having a nice lunch together. :)

Labriola Bakery Cafe
3021 Butterfield Road, #106
Oak Brook, IL
(630) 574-2008