Sunday, February 28, 2016

Visiting Larsen Farms as a City Mom

One of the highlights of 2015 was being a City Mom. At the start of the year, I applied to be part of the Illinois Farm Families program and was excited to be accepted to this select group of moms who would visit farms and blog about the experiences.

Each visit was different than the others, but each was also similar in many ways. Farming is a family business. At the farms we visited, it wasn't one person who owned the farm and hired help who did the bulk of the work. It was a husband and a wife and kids and the farm had been in the family for many years. When we met the farm families, there were multiple generations there and it was so neat to see how everyone had a role in the success of the farm. I don't care what kind of family business you may encounter, I can't imagine one where a family is as close knit as they are in running a farm.

I was a little sad to do our last farm tour of the year, but I hear there may be a few ongoing opportunities for our group to meet again and learn more about the many aspects of agriculture and farming in the country today. Last year we covered so many aspects of food production. We saw the origins of the vegetables and meats that we put on our tables, we saw how technology is used in the field, we learned how valuable land is (and how value animal waste can be), why GMOs are used today, how animals are cared for and how labor-intense the job of farming is. I enjoyed each experience as a City Mom and I even got to share my experiences after the final tour as a guest on a radio show.

On our last trip of 2015 was to Larsen Farms in Maple Park where we sort of got a two-for-one experience. We were there at harvest season, getting a close look at what's going on at the farm as harvesting is in full swing. We also saw the cattle production side of the farm and got a better sense of all that goes into making sure that our beef supply is safe and the best quality it can be. We got a tutorial on shopping for beef and on cooking it and we feasted on home cooked dishes made from family recipes. At the end of the day, I had an opportunity to ride in a combine - and although I'm all grown-up, the thrill of the experience had me in awe.

As with all our tours, our large group was welcomed with open arms. You instantly felt right at home and were greeted with that beautiful hospitality that is unique to farming. You were being welcomed into their home and they were so eager to share their way of life and how proud they were to do what they do.

Larson Farms is the result of three generations of hard work on one sprawling plot of land. Mike and Lynn Martz manage the farm today, but it was Lynn's parents who began the business. Mike and Lynn's son and his wife are also involved in working with the farm. Mike oversees the 3500-head cattle farm, which operates kind of like a cow hotel. Young cows are brought in to feed and grow at their facility before being sent to a finishing farm. We learned that cattle production is essentially a three-step farming process. There are farms that specialize strictly in impregnating and birthing cows. They then go to a farm like Larsen's Farm, which is a middle step where the calves are brought to feed and bulk up and are well-monitored for health issues and quality of meat. After their time there, the cattle are moved on to a finishing farm.

Lynn manages the corn and soybean crops that are grown on about 6300 acres. And when taking my combine ride I got a real sense of how close-knit the staff is, too. My combine driver had been working with the family for decades, spending long hours there during harvest season, but dedicated to doing a good job for the family he works for and for the families that eat the products that come from the farm.

Being a food blogger, there's always a fun anticipation in what's coming up for lunch on our tour. We were treated to a homemade meal and got a lot of good tips on selecting meats from your supermarket or butcher and good uses for them.

I'm looking forward to more opportunities through the program to learn about farming and the care that goes into the food that we put on our tables...and look forward to sharing more with you.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Honey BBQ meatballs

On Super Bowl Sunday, I make a lot of food. So, I opt for things that are easy so that I'm not spending major amounts of time on one or two things. You can't get any easier than BBQ meatballs.


About 40 frozen meatballs (I buy mine from Gordon Foods)
Half of a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce
2 tablespoons of honey

Yep, that's it. Of course if you want to go the route of making your own meatballs, you can do that, too. You can even freeze them when you make a big batch so that you have some ready to go for this recipe.

I use my casserole-style, rectangular crock pot for these. That way I can spread them out and they warm faster because they aren't all lumped together.

Lay out a layer of frozen meatballs. Top with sauce and honey. I add just a little bit of water on the bottom, too. Put just enough to barely cover the bottom. Set the crock-pot to high for 3 hours. Open at stir. I turn it to low then and keep it on another hour or so and then they're ready to go!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Buffalo Chicken Dip

I don't do hot sauce. Or Sriracha. Or jalapeños. Or any of that fiery hot stuff. However, when there's some buffalo chicken dip in front of me, made with Frank's Red Hot Sauce, I eat the S*^! out of it. My mouth is on fire, but I can't stop eating it. Had to make some for Super Bowl Sunday...or Super Dip Sunday, as I call it.

2 cups cubed or shredded cooked chicken
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup Frank's Red Hot Sauce
1/2 cup ranch dressing
1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put first four ingredients in a glass baking dish, reserving half of the shredded cheese. Bake 15 - 20 minutes. Stir and add remaining shredded cheese. Bake another 5 minutes or until cheese melts and dip is heated throughout. If desired, garnish with something pretty, like a dollop of salsa, some cilantro or some chopped green onions. Serve with tortilla chips, Ritz crackers and celery.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Rob's Meats

It had been a while since I had made a trip out to Rob's Meats in Dyer, Indiana and hubby wanted to make some steaks on the grill, even though it was hovering around 20 degrees outside. So, off we went. It was my first time in Rob's since their expansion last year. I spend a good while wandering around and seeing what was new.

Besides the steaks, I got some hand made chicken kiev as well as some stuffed portobellos, which went on the grill for a few minutes and were amazing! They also have an expanded deli and meat case along with shelves of seasonings and other grocery items. I also grabbed a case of Filbert's root beer, which the kids are fond of. Looking forward to another trip back soon...and hoping that the weather is warmer by then.

Vegeterian Skillet Nachos

So, for the Super Bowl, I had planned to make skillet nachos. I'd seen some recipes using ground beef and others using chicken, but with the other things I had prepared already, we were on meat overload. So, I decided I'd use chili beans instead along with cheese and veggies. I'd just gotten a nice iron skillet as a gift from my friends at LongHorn Steakhouse as I was working with them on a winter grilling campaign, so I was happy to have an opportunity to use it.


Hint of Lime Tortilla chips
Shredded Mexican Cheese blend (about 6 ounces)
1/2 can of corn with red and green peppers
1/2 can of mild chili beans
2 diced roma tomatoes
1/8th head of shredded lettuce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread a layer of chips in a cast iron skillet, top with cheese, corn, beans and roma tomatoes. Top with a little more cheese. Add another layer of chips, then cheese and more corn beans, tomatoes and more cheese.  Bake about 10 minutes and remove from oven. Add shredded lettuce and serve.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Chuck E Cheese introduces new menu items

Kids' entertainment centers or chains might not be a place you would think of for good pizza. However, Chuck E Cheese has stepped up their game in the food department. They've got new pizza recipes with hand-stretched dough, locally sourced veggie toppings and a fresh whole milk mozzarella grated fresh every day. They're offering a new thin crust and some other new items, like pretzel dippers, along with a variety of sandwiches on ciabatta rolls, wraps and their salad bar.

I love that they offer a salad bar where everything is super fresh and cold and that they have a good variety of ingredients, from spinach to sesame seeds to beets.

If you haven't tried the new menu items at Chuck E Cheese, you will be surprised at the quality and taste. The Thin & Crispy pizza even beat out Pizza Hut in a recent national blind taste test.

Also, be sure to subscribe to receive e-mails. You'll get frequent coupons for eat & play values, with pizza, drink & token offers at a discount.

One more thing to like about Chuck E Cheese - games are only one token, so when you purchase tokens they go pretty far. Not to brag, but I'm a pretty magnificent Skee Ball player and I always have to reserve some tokens for myself and get a few rounds in when I take the kids there.

Breakfast at Timbrook Kitchens

I've posted a few times before about this cute little bakery cafe in Munster, Indiana that I was first introduced to at the Chesterton European Market before they had an actual storefront. I pass by it often and one of my favorite items is the mini quiche. Sometimes I get the version that is loaded with bacon, but this particular one pictured below is a tomato, feta and parsley one. What's best about it is that it has a hash brown crust that adds another layer of taste and texture and makes it more filling.

They also serve up some great breakfast sandwiches and the sweet breakfast items are fantastic, as well. I love the scones and buckles and cinnamon cigars. I've yet to try the cinnamon rolls, but they always look very tempting.

If you're rolling through Munster early in the day, drop by and try it out for yourself. Also, follow along on Facebook where the photos will leave you drooling on your keyboard.

Timbrook Kitchens
17 Ridge Road
Munster, IN
(219) 241-9558

Lincoln's O

There are a lot of places to get a good sandwich, but my favorite remains an place I first tried over 25 years ago as a teenager. Lincoln's was in Calumet City at the time and from the first time I tried it, I was hooked. It was well worth waiting in long lunchtime lines for a good sandwich and some of their homemade pie.

Luckily, when the family (who before opening in Calumet City were in Gary, IN) decided to leave the Calumet City location, they opened one in Highland, IN. There are now a couple other sandwich shops in the area called Lincoln's, but the Highland one is referred to as Lincoln's O. The "O" stands for Original.

They have a big variety of tasty sandwiches, including some special signature ones like the Cal City Special, which is my favorite. It has turkey, ham, bacon, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo on Italian bread. Other signature sandwiches include the Chester Hoagie, the Bunny Girl, the U.S. Steel Special, the Sibley Special and the Toledo.

On my last visit, I was waiting for my order and someone went up to the register pick up a couple 3-foot party subs. Somehow I never even realized they offered them. One of the workers placed two long, heavily stuffed subs on the counter and I was really surprised when the total was only around $47 with tax. I've ordered big subs for parties in the past and the cost was at least $10 per foot. Now I kinda want to throw a party just so I can order the giant subs to see how good they are. If they mirror their regular sandwiches, I know they are incredibly delicious.

If you have never tried Lincoln's, it's a must if you visit NW Indiana. They do have shorter hours now - just 11 a.m. - 4:30 Monday through Saturday, so plan accordingly, but be sure to bring your appetite.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Perfect Portion Cookbook

Sorting through all the pitches that come through my inbox to feature food products or restaurants or other items, one caught my eye. It's the Perfect Portion Cookbook, which makes managing your diet much easier by breaking down all your servings into 100 calories (or in increments of 100 calories) and showing you what you can really eat for that many calories by providing recipes for some favorite meals (many with better-for-you ingredients) and showing how they breakdown into this 100-count puzzle.

However, I have to admit that what really caught my eye at first was the name Anson Williams. Could this be THE Anson Williams who is a co-author of this book?

I was taken back to the early 1980's. I was in grade school. I had a mad crush on Potsie Weber, one of Richie Cunningham's silly buddies on the show Happy Days. While others were swooning over the Fonz or covering their bedroom walls with Brat Pack faces, my allegiance was to Potsie. Those boy-next-door good looks. The sense of humor. The quiet confidence. He was just dreamy. And as sure as Joanie would marry Chachi, I was sure one day I'd be exchanging vows with my Prince Potsie.

Anyway, thanks for allowing me to indulge in my gushing, girlie, nostalgic fantasies for a moment, but back to the book.

So, it turns out it is THE Anson Willams who was involved with this book. He's referred to as the "architect" of the book and chief tasting officer. It was co-written with New York Times best-selling cookbook author and QVC host, Bob Warden and food/nutrition expert Mona Dolgov.

The book includes 150 recipes of favorites like French toast, Waldorf salad, chili and cheesecake and allows you to enjoy them in moderation without sacrificing taste or flavor by dividing servings to fit the 100 or 200 or 300 or 400-calorie mark. It also has tasty recipes for things like oven-fried potato chips and fruit parfaits, offering a healthier version of these common foods. For those who don't do "diets" that force you to sacrifice the foods you love, this book allows you to meal plan and fit your favorites into an adequate daily calorie intake - no need to give up your favorite foods. And the photos - oh, my the photography is BEAUTIFUL!

I also love that it helps you manage those sauces, dressings and extra little things that you don't often take into consideration when gauging your overall daily calories. You also have the recipes at your fingertips to make from scratch items of condiments and snacks without all the additives and not-so-good-for-you preservatives - not to mention that Bleu Cheese Dressing from scratch tastes a ton better than what comes out of a bottle. Snacks like cheese crackers and granola can be easily made via this cookbook all with ingredients you can easily pronounce and probably have on hand in your pantry.

The cookbook launched last week on QVC and is available on Amazon. You'll find it at this link.

From the inbox: Double-Dipped French Toast Returns to IHOP

Yum...French Toast. Who doesn't love that delicious breakfast specialty? Take a look at what IHOP is cooking up starting today.


Sweet Brioche French Toast Coated in Corn Flakes and Oatmeal. Now in Blackberry & Vanilla or Banana Peanut Butter & Chocolate and for a Deliciously Indulgent Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner!

(Glendale, CA; February 15, 2015) – IHOP restaurants are bringing back their newest innovation, Double Dipped French Toast-- soft brioche bread first dipped in vanilla batter, then dipped a second time in a coating of corn flakes and oatmeal and griddled perfectly to a crispy golden-brown, raising the bar for French toast at an affordable price. See this delicious treat by visiting:
Double Dipped French Toast is yet another example of why America turns to IHOP for breakfast any time of day—and has for over 57 years.  When it was introduced last summer, it became one of our most popular dishes, and guests have been eagerly awaiting its return.

And it’s back in two new sweetly indulgent varieties:
  • Blackberry & Vanilla – Thick slices of Brioche bread dipped in our vanilla batter, then in cornflakes and oatmeal, griddled, and topped with plump blackberries and drizzled with vanilla sauce.
  • Banana, Peanut Butter & Chocolate – Thick slices of Brioche bread dipped in vanilla batter, then in cornflakes and oatmeal, griddled, and topped with sliced fresh bananas, chocolate chips and a drizzle of peanut butter sauce. 

“Double-Dipped French Toast became an immediate fan favorite when we introduced it last summer, so it was a natural choice to come back to the menu in two fresh, new flavors, “ said Marie Grimm, Vice President, Menu Development and Innovation, International House of Pancakes, LLC. “The combination of the unique texture of our Double Dipped French Toast with these exciting new ingredients will create even more fans of this terrific treat, perfect for breakfast all day or night!"

Guests can enjoy two slices of hand-crafted Double-Dipped French Toast any time of day as part of a combo with eggs, done the way they like them, their choice of crispy bacon, pork sausage links or a slice of grilled ham, and IHOP restaurants' signature golden hash browns;  or as an entrée stacked three slices high.  

Double Dipped French toast will be available at participating IHOP restaurants between February 15 and April 10, 2016. 

For over 57 years, International House of Pancakes, LLC has been a leader and expert in all things breakfast and a leader in family dining. The chain is highly competitive in its menu offering, serving 65 different signature, made-to-order breakfast options as well as meals under 600 calories. Beyond offering "everything you love about breakfast," IHOP® restaurants have a wide selection of popular lunch and dinner items, as well. IHOP restaurants offer guests an affordable, everyday dining experience with warm and friendly service. As of September 30, 2015, there were 1,667 IHOP restaurants in 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as in Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the Philippines, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. IHOP restaurants are franchised and operated by Glendale, Calif.-based International House of Pancakes, LLC and its affiliates. International House of Pancakes, LLC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of DineEquity, Inc. (NYSE: DIN).

Monday, February 8, 2016

From the inbox: Valentine Dining at Lake Point Tower

My inbox is bursting with information on special menus, romantic settings and special deals for Valentine's Day. So, I'll share a few this week for those of you still mulling over how to spend the holiday. Here's one for those who want to go big and indulge in dinner at one of the classiest places with one of the nicest views in the city.

Cité Fine Dining, at the Top of Lake Point Tower, is the Ultimate Valentine’s Gift

Cité Fine Dining brings the best of the world to its guests by inviting them to indulge their valentine with a world-class Valentine’s Day dining occasion complete with the opportunity to dine among celebrity guests, unrivaled fine dining, renowned entertainment and romantic décor all encompassed in a luxuriously appointed dining room featuring the top city views from across the globe.

As an extraordinary delight, Cité’s owner and Former First Lady of New York State Evangeline will dine among the stars—both those in the sky as well as an array of admired personalities. Celebrities that have dined at Cité include Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Gina Lollobrigida, Carolina Herrera, Tom Selleck, Dolly Parton, Zubin Mehta, Ted Kennedy and even royalty including German Princess Elisabeth of Ysenburg and Büdingen among other notables. Every table will be gracefully adorned with Evangeline’s signature rose petals and candlelight adding that je ne sais quoi to the evening.

Three-time James Beard nominee chef Martial Noguier, Culinary Director, and distinguished Executive Chef Oscar Ornelas of Cité will create a spectacular seasonal five-course Valentine’s Day dining experience. The fare and fine wines paired with the unsurpassed beauty from the 70th floor of Lake Point Tower with 360-degree panoramic views of Chicago and neighboring states will set the mood for a romance-inducing Valentine’s Day occasion.

Cité Fine Dining’s Valentine’s Menu is intended to enhance feelings of passion through aphrodisiac ingredients such as oysters, black pepper and chocolate. In the spirit of coupling, both the Chateaubriand and Belgium Chocolate Fondue are meant for sharing. The Mignardises are intended to enjoy at home as a remembrance of the enchanting evening spent floating and romancing in the sky while watching the magic of Chicago below your feet.

To further mark the special occasion, Cité will offer live music by coveted pianist Dean Rolando on Valentine’s Day, Sunday, February 14. Dean has served as a regular in elite local venues and is the Associate Musical Director for The City Lights Orchestra, which is one of the most highly sought-after event orchestras known throughout the United States. He has had backed up and worked with Ray Charles, Garth Brooks, Diane Schurr, The Manhattan Transfer along with the Cast of The Lion King and Beauty And The Beast.

During the entire month of February, Cité’s Valentine’s Menu will be available as it is one to truly be enjoyed. Vegetarian and vegan choices are always available to appeal to an array of guest preferences.


Guests may select one dish from each course


Kumamoto Oysters & Pearls

American Sturgeon Caviar | Cucumber Mignonette


Diver Sea Scallops

Jerusalem Artichoke Purée | Baby Cress Salad | White Truffle Aioli | Parmesan Shaving

Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras

Amarena Cherries | Confit of Red Cabbage | Age Balsamic Reduction | Brioche

Prime Steak Tartare

Egg Yolk Custard | Capers Berry | Homemade Potato Chips

Millefeuille of Red & Yellow Beets (Vegetarian)

Mâche Salad | Tangerine Orange | Capriole Goat Cheese


Cauliflower Velouté (Vegetarian)

Lump Crab Meat | Brown Butter | Pomegranate Seeds

Belgium Endive & Radicchio Salad (Vegetarian)

Port Wine Poached Pear | Maytag Blue Cheese with Toasted Hazelnuts Cherry Vinaigrette


Chateaubriand for Two

Country Mustard Pomme Purée | Baby Rainbow Carrot | Béarnaise Sauce

Filet Mignon Au Poivre Vert

Bourgogne Black Truffle | Brussels Sprouts | Smoked Bacon | Cognac Sauce

Pan Seared Faroe Island Salmon

Leek Fondue | Porcini Mushrooms | Champagne Reduction

Roasted Rack of Lamb

Mushroom Duxelle | Winter Mushrooms | Tomme de Brebis Shaving

Arborio Risotto (Vegetarian)

Bourgogne Black Truffle | Parmesan Shaving | White Truffle oil


Belgium Chocolate Fondue for Two

Tangerine Supreme | Banana Bread | Marshmallow | Pineapple | Kiwi

Chocolate Macchiato

Chocolate Cake | Caramel Mousse | Espresso Ice Cream

Crème Brûlée

Tahitian Vanilla Bean | Clementine Grand Marnier Salad


Chocolate Truffle | Cacao Powder

To cap off a truly exquisite experience, guests may additionally opt for the Louis XIII Cognac served with imported Belgium chocolate on a silver plate. This traditionally Swiss custom is available at Cité. Also by request is the always eye-catching Tableside Flaming Bananas Foster that is sure to light a spark between you and your date!


Cité Fine Dining
Cité, meaning “city” in French, soars as the “Crown Jewel of Chicago” serving seasonal fine dining cuisine in a luxuriously appointed dining room on the 70th floor of Lake Point Tower with extraordinary 360-degree panoramic views of the Chicago skyline and neighboring states. Acclaimed chef Martial Noguier, Culinary Director, oversees the epicurean aspect of the internationally renowned restaurant working in partnership with notable Executive Chef Oscar Ornelas. The chefs’ artistically presented and lavish dishes shine among the distinguished 24-karat gold-gilded ceiling coves and rare African Tigerwood in the cocktail lounge bar.

With an owner as worldly and as stunning as the view, Dr. Dame Evangeline Gouletas, the real estate legend and corporate executive brings an air of sophistication and elegance all of her own as the Former First Lady of New York State, philanthropist, teacher and lecturer to ensure the cuisine and experience are unsurpassed.

Located just east of the Magnificent Mile, Cité is situated in the Streeterville neighborhood. The restaurant is open for dinner beginning at 5 p.m. nightly. Reservations are available through OpenTable. For more information about Cité, please call (312) 644-4050 or visit

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Pulled pork sandwiches

One of the easiest meals I make for my family is pulled pork sandwiches. I know a lot of people use pork shoulder or a pork roast, but I prefer a lean pork tenderloin. I usually get a cracked pepper or garlic and herb flavor.

1 black peppercorn pork tenderloin (about one pound)
1/2 bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce
8 hamburger buns

Place the tenderloin in a crock pot and put a small amount of water on the bottom of the crock pot, just enough to cover the bottom. Cover the tenderloin with about half of a bottle of sauce. Put on "high" setting for about 4 hours. Because it's such a lean cut, it shouldn't need to be drained. You can shred it right in the crock pot for serving and keeping warm. If it doesn't shred easily after four hours, add another hour or so or move to slow for a couple additional hours. Serve on hamburger buns with additional barbecue sauce.

Great ways to spend Valentine's day in Chicagoland

Time is running out for making plans for Valentine's Day. It's just a week away! Still unsure about where to take that special someone? Here's a round-up of some unique spots in and around Chicago. Here's to a fun, romantic day spent with that special someone.

Medieval Times in Schaumburg has a Valentine's Couple Package for $110, which includes admission for two, four course dinner, cheering flags, photo in a souvenir frame, souvenir glasses of champagne. Use promo code VDAYWEB16 for this offer. Or you can get basic admission and dinner tickets for $36.95 and kids for $29.95 with the promo code JFWB16 through February 29.

Fogo de Chao has a new location in Naperville, in addition to the Chicago and Rosemont locations, and if you dine Valentine's Day weekend, you'll receive a dining card for a complimentary lunch or dinner on your next visit (dinner pricing applies all day on Sunday, Feb. 14.) Fogo de Chao offers a fun experience with an abundant meal of unlimited fire-roasted meats along accompanied by traditional Brazilian sides, a gourmet Market Table with fresh seasonal salads and decadent desserts. Visit for locations, pricing and more.

Just named one of the 10 Most Romantic Restaurants in the WORLD by The Culture TripGeja’s Café, 340 W. Armitage, is planning the most romantic Valentine’s Day celebration in its 50 year history.  For nine days, from Sunday, February 7th through Monday, February 15th, the renowned “Restaurant of Romance” will be elegantly decorated and feature sparkling champagne, Celebration of Marriage Night, live flamenco and classical guitarists, photo keepsakes, and delicious sizzling hot fondue cuisine. For information on the Valentine’s Day celebration, please call 773.281.9101, or visit Geja’s online at       

At Devon Seafood Grill in Chicago, you can enjoy a special dinner during Valentine's weekend of 1 lb. lobster tail, 8 ox. filet oscar or 6oz. filet, 8 ox. lobster tail with two seasonal sides for $55.

Taste on Chestnut will be featuring a special Valentine's Day menu February 12th and 13th, offering guests the choice of 4-course ($60), 3-course ($50), and á la carte options. Among the options are Seed Crusted Ahi Tuna with Pickled Japanese Eggplant and Wasabi Soy; Braised Ox Tail Gnocchi with Truffle Cream, Shaved Pecorino and a Ciabatta Crisp; Baby Kale Caesar with Air Dried Tomato, Anchovies and Sea Salt Crouton; Market Salad with Organic Greens, Shaved Carrots, Edamame, Mushrooms, Cherry Tomato, Grilled Halloumi Cheese; Beet Tartare Salad with Blood Orange Essence Micro Salad, Fennel Vinaigrette and Spiced Walnuts; Lobster Bisque with Truffle Corn Mousse and Bacon Crisp; or Roasted Kabocha Squash Bisque with Apple Flan and Spiced Pipits, Lemon Herb Roasted Amish Chicken with Garlic Potato Wedges, Green Beans and Pan Jus; Pan Roasted Atlantic Salmon with Saffron Cauliflower Puree, Asparagus and Black Olive Oil; Holland Dover Sole with Porcini Mushroom Ravioli, Balsamic Wilted Spinach and Buerre Blanc; Achiote Rubbed Pork Chop with Chorizo Fork Mashed and Fire Roasted Vegetables in Chile Negro Jus; Fillet with Parmesan Risotto, Mushroom Fondue and Foie Gras Mousse; or Rosemary Lamb Chops with Butter Poached Potato, Brussels Sprouts and Merlot Roasted Shallot Reduction.

Finish off your romantic meal with a decadent Valentine’s Strawberry Heart for Two with Vanilla Genoise, Vanilla Bean Custard and Fresh Strawberries or Delicate Flourless Chocolate Truffle Cake with Raspberry Infusion and Dark Chocolate Mousse.

With its recent venue update, Taste on Chestnut offers guests the choice of dining in the vibrant Chestnut Room with its new community table and bar, the warm and intimate Fireplace Room, or the bright and open-air kitchen Savory Room. To reserve a table for February 12th or 13th, please call 847-441-0134 or go online to

Spend Valentine’s Day at Lincoln Park’s newest dining destination, slick, contemporary restaurant The Warehouse Bar & Pizzeria, 1419 W. Fullerton.  Featuring a 16 ft. overhead garage door that opens up the front of the space, the restaurant has an airy and inviting feel, imparting a sense of casual comfort and ease right away, perfect for a relaxed Valentine’s Day dinner. Upholstered booth seating and exposed brick walls give the space a dynamic feeling. The Warehouse Bar & Pizzeria presents a unique list of specialty 12 inch personal pizzas pies meant to dazzle even the most seasoned Chicago pizza aficionado, as well as salads, sandwiches and appetizers using fresh, flavorful ingredients. Guests may enjoy red pizzas, white pizzas, or even build their own. For more information, visit or call 773.661.6454.

Looking for something a little unusual? Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana, located on Purdue University Calumet's Hammond campus is offering a "Fly Your Sweetie to the Moon" on February 13. As a pair, you'll work through a space simulation together and enjoy a laser light show. There will also be chocolate and a floral gift. Tickets are $50 per couple.

Chef Graham Elliot will offer a five-course, heart-themed menu for Valentine’s Day at Graham Elliot Bistro (841 W. Randolph St.) Dishes include Artichoke Heart, with pickled pear, black truffle and crème fraiche; Beef Heart, with barely risotto, shaved fennel and housemade ricotta; and Coconut Heart, with coconut caramel, toasted coquito and chocolate ganache. The cost of the menu is $95 per person (exclusive of tax and gratuity) and will be offered Friday, February 12 through Sunday, February 14. Reservations are required and may be made by visiting

For pizza lovers, you can say "I love you" than with a delicious, heart-shaped pizza at Heart Shaped Pizza 300Bacino's in Lincoln Park as well as locations at 75 E. Wacker Dr. in Chicago and 36 South LaGrange Road in Downtown LaGrange.  

You can also ship one to that special someone! Bacino's renowned stuffed pizzas are available for shipping. Orders must be received no later than February 10 for arrival on February 12. Medium (serves 2-3) and Large (serves 3-4) sizes are available for shipping. Prices are based on the regular menu price plus shipping and handling. Pricing for medium stuffed pizzas begin at $19.95; large at $24.95. Call 312-263-2350 to order. $3.50 for local delivery; shipping costs vary.

If you're looking for a more gourmet experience, both Bella Bacinos locations are featuring a special Valentine's menu all weekend-Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, February 12, 13, and 14, including Sunday brunch. Paired with Bella Bacinos' extraordinary, award-winning wine list, it will set the stage for an unforgettable, romantic meal. The LaGrange location is featuring live music by guitarist Anselmo Marquez, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday, February 12. 
End the evening on a sweet note with one of Bacinos' house-made desserts. Indulge in house made Tiramisu, an Italian classic, or the Flourless Chocolate Cake, featuring imported Valrhona dark chocolate, and pair it with a delicious sparkling dessert wine.

Avli Estiatorio (566 Chestnut St.), Winnetka and Chicagoland’s premier Greek dining destination, will offer a romantic, four-course prix fixe menu this Valentine’s Day. Love birds will choose an appetizer of either the signature Aginares Skaras, grilled artichokes with capers, lemon zest and olive oil or the Avli Flatbread with Greek cheeses, onions, olives, tomatoes and basil. The salad course offers the option of the classic Greek Salad, with tomatoes, Greek feta, cucumbers, red onions, green peppers, Kalamata olives, Greek oregano and housemade dressing or Diane’s Salad, with arugula, manouri cheese, pear, walnuts, balsamic vinegar and Greek honey dressing. Entrée options include the Salmon, baked in parchment paper with fennel, leeks and ouzo or the Beef Kabob with chargrilled beef tenderloin, herbs, spices and lemon-oregano rice. Guests will then be able to nibble on a sampling of signature desserts. The dinner menu will be offered from Friday, February 12 through Sunday, February, 14. Cost per person is $37 (exclusive of tax and gratuity) and includes a glass of Champagne or select wine. Reservations are recommended and may be made by calling 847.446.9300.

Located directly on the Magnificent Mile and inside of the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile (540 N Michigan Ave.), Harvest Restaurant boasts a contemporary spin on classic American fare. On Valentine’s Day, Executive Chef Myk Banas will offer a reasonably priced, three-course prix fixe menu for two. Options include the Endive Caesar, with anchovy-caper dressing, Grana cheese, egg yolk and garlic breadcrumbs; Crispy Grit Cakes, with aioli, prosciutto and pickled jalapeno; Pan Roasted Wisconsin Char, with vegetable ragout, smoked shrimp broth and roe; and the Chocolate Raspberry Bomb, with chocolate mousse, chocolate cake and berries. Cost per couple is just $80, exclusive of tax and gratuity. Patrons have the option of adding a bottle of select wine for $19. Reservations are recommended and may be made by calling 312.836.6334.

The Chocolate Sanctuary, is offering some Valentine's Day treats that include a Surf and Turf ($42) - 6 oz filet and lobster tail served with creamed spinach, garlic roasted Yukon Gold potatoes; crab and lobster ravioli amuse, a baked spicy crab mac & cheese and a dessert for Valentine's made for two. Guests will also receive a complimentary truffles box! Chocolate Sanctuary is located at 5101 Washington St in Gurnee, 224.944.0808.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Stephano's burgers

At this neighborhood pizzeria, they've added a lot of things to their menu. Besides traditional pizza pies, Stephano's in Lansing has everything from pastas to chicken wings to rib tips to chicken pitas, patty melts, beef sandwiches and more.

One of my boys stops there often for a burger and I thought it was time I tried one out. The Mushroom Swiss burger was really good. I love that the bun is toasted - that makes a world of difference. I ordered with everything and it was one of those deliciously messy burgers that leave you with juice running down your arms.

Kudos to Stephano's on a great burger.

Follow them on Facebook for specials.

Stephano's Pizzeria
3155 191st Street
Lansing, IL
(708) 895-6611