Tuesday, February 20, 2018

S'mores Dip

Prior to Super Bowl Sunday my husband was looking around for recipes to make that day. He loves cooking in cast iron, so he perused the Lodge website and found this recipe. He missed the stop of putting butter in the bottom of the pan, which I assume is to keep the chocolate from sticking. It turned out fine without it, but if you're afraid clean up may be an issue, use a little melted butter before moving on. After all, if you're going to be dipping into a pile of marshmallows and chocolate, the few extra calories from the butter won't matter much.

What you need:

2 12-ounce bags of semi sweet chocolate chips
1 bag of marshmallows
graham crackers

Using the 10 inch skillet, cover the bottom with your chocolate chips and then top with marshmallows. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes at 450 degrees or until the marshmallows have a nice golden brown color. Remove from oven and serve with graham crackers for dipping.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Banana Split Bites

I got a sample in the mail of this yummy Belgian dark chocolate spread called Lekkco and my mind wandered thinking of what I might want to do with it. We always have Nutella on hand here, but the kids use it mostly to spread on graham crackers. So, there's a ton of possibilities of items you can dip into it or spread it onto - pretzels, animal crackers, apples and other fruits, nuts, cookies.

I had one lonely banana on my counter and tried to think of what else I could add to it. My son was cleaning out a drawer in my kitchen that had all kinds of stray packets of ketchup and sauces and I noticed a packet of chopped peanuts from a McDonald's ice cream sundae...which made banana splits pop into my mind. I didn't have any strawberries on hand, but I did have some strawberry preserves. These yummy little bites were the result.

1 Banana
Lekkco Belgian Dark Chocolate Spread
Strawberry Preserves
Chopped Peanuts

Cut into bite size pieces and serve.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Visit Jimmy's Charhouse Elk Grove for Chicago Northwest Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week is winding down, but that doesn't mean that the fun and deals are all done. The Northwest suburbs have a restaurant week of their own and it's just a couple weeks away. Chicago Northwest Restaurant Week runs February 23 through March 4. The 10-day event includes more than 40 participating restaurants - and there are some really good ones! From some of the best upscale chains to casual fare to fine dining, there's something for everyone.

We recently had an opportunity to dine at Jimmy's Charhouse Elk Grove in Elk Grove Village, which is one of the participating restaurants for Chicago Northwest Restaurant Week. 

The restaurant had a large menu, which made it pretty hard to decide on what to try, but we were impressed with everything we ordered. We started with an appetizer of saganaki because when you can get a plate of flaming cheese delivered to your table, why not? Cheese is one of my biggest weaknesses and when it's melted and drizzled with lemon then served with fresh pita bread, I just can't resist.

We also tried the Mediterranean Shrimp - sautéed in olive oil, fresh garlic, tomatoes, bell peppers, imported feta and fontinella cheese, which was amazing.

Next came our soups and salads. I opted for a wedge salad that was super crisp with some amazing bleu cheese crumbles and large pieces of crispy bacon and served with a house-made bleu cheese dressing that was fantastic. Hubby went for a bowl of French onion soup. I'm normally not a fan of onion soup, but one bite of this and I just couldn't stop. That melted gruyere got me hooked.

And yes, we kept going. My entree was a petite filet to which I added a horseradish crust along with a bernaise sauce, a loaded stuffed potato and sautéed fresh vegetables. It was as good as steaks I've had at some of the top steakhouses in the city. Perfectly cooked to medium. I savored every bite.

Hubby opted for a pork chop and lamb chop combo with a side of mashed potatoes and veggies. I sampled both and each one was amazingly tender.

There was also one other thing on the menu that caught my eye and I just had to try - the Chicken Al Forno Pasta, which is on the menu as one of their signature specials. It's a half wood-roasted chicken with rigatoni pasta, marinara sauce, fontinella and parmesan cheeses that's baked in the oven in an oversized skillet and could easily feed two adults and probably a hungry kid, too. It was so gooey and packed with flavor and one of those meals that leaves you longing for that taste for weeks after you've dined.

The current owner, Tom Sizopoulos, took over about two years ago and eased into things slowly, getting to know the neighborhood and the customers. The first thing he was interested in doing was upgrading the food quality. Some subtle menu changes were made, keeping with the favorites and best selling menu items and adding a few of his own or modifying others. For example, the shrimp cocktail was elevated to a Mexican version the he said is more flavorful and has nicer presentation.

He said they use a sea salt blend in the kitchen that they make themselves. The portions are big and everything is made from scratch. Seafood is fresh and wild-caught. Sizopoulos emphasized that they don't skimp on anything.

The changes have been well-received and soon they'll be changing over to a new name, Avenue on 53.

Among the popular dishes that will remain on the menu are lamb chops, ribs (which are smoked in-house), steaks, wood-roasted chicken, Mediterranean Shrimp (which he said is a signature item of theirs that you can't find anywhere else.)

Some other notable things about Jimmy's Charhouse: 
They have a daily happy hour from 3 - 6 p.m.
They offer private rooms for large groups with a special buffet package or cocktail menu.
They have live entertainment on weekends.

For more information, visit JimmysCharhouseElkGrove.com

Oh, and we definitely couldn't eat another bite following dinner, but were sent home with molten lava cake. It was staring me in the face as soon as I opened the fridge the following morning - and I'm not ashamed to say that I made it my breakfast.

Keep Jimmy's Charhouse in mind if you're considering dining out for Chicago Northwest Restaurant Week and be sure to visit in the coming weeks when the name change and new menu are complete.

Jimmy's Charhouse
1180 W. Devon Ave.
Elk Grove Village, IL

**We received a complimentary meal for the purpose of a review. We were not compensated for this post. All opinions are our own.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Skillet S'Mores Dip

As we were planning for Super Bowl Sunday, hubby pulled up an e-mail he had received from Lodge Cast Iron with some recipes. He loves his cast iron cookware and was anxious to do some cooking in it for the big day.

One of the recipes he picked to make was a super easy dessert that has just 4 ingredients. He actually used 3 because he forget to melt the butter in the skillet before he put in the chocolate. Anyway, it's super easy and super yummy. And it looks so impressive when cooked just right - with a beautiful layer of brown to the marshmallows.

Here's what you need:

1 tbsp butter
24 ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels
10 ounces marshmallows
graham crackers

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. 

Place the 10.25 inch skillet in the oven for 5 minutes. 

Remove skillet form oven and melt butter in skillet, covering the cooking surface evenly. Oops..he forgot this step. I suspect it just makes cleaning easier. As of right now we still have half a pan covered and in the refrigerator, so I don't yet know what clean-up will be like. We might be having big regret about forgetting the butter when it's cleaning time. 

Pour chocolate morsels in the skillet covering the bottom and top with marshmallows. I didn't realize I got the mini chips. They melted nicely. Next time I am tempted to get some peanut butter or butterscotch chips to blend in for a different flavor.

Bake 7 - 10 minutes until marshmallows are toasted. 

Remove from the oven and serve using graham crackers to dip.

Hubby managed to pull them out with just the perfect hint of golden brown and the dipping was fun - pulling strings of gooey marshmallow and chocolate up high above the pan. 

We made another recipe from Lodge for Super Bowl Sunday and I'll share that soon. For more cast iron cooking recipes, visit their website at lodgemfg.com.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Chicago Restaurant Week

Some misguided individuals believe that Christmastime is the most wonderful time of the year. Not. Even. Close.

The best time of the year in Chicago would be the roughly two week period (some restaurants extend it and participate even longer) designated as Chicago Restaurant Week. It typically begins in January and continues in to early February, a traditionally slow time for the restaurant industry. People are often dieting in conjunction with New Year's Resolutions, funds are low because of the holidays and people are more apt to hibernate at home during the brutal weather in Chiberia in winter. 

But, if you can overcome those things, it is a great time to visit one of close to 400 participating restaurants offering multi-course prix fixe meals - lunches at $22 and dinners at $33 or $44. You usually have an option of at least two entrees, appetizers and desserts. Some will have other upgrades or wine pairings that you can tack on if you'd like. Beverages and gratuity are not included. 

You'll find many varieties of ethnic cuisine offered at dining establishments of all kinds. If there's a pricey, swanky place that you've always wanted to visit that is just out of you budget, you might find them on the list of restaurants and have a chance to dine there when you wouldn't normally go. It's a great way to be introduced to new places that you may not otherwise try. 

I'm a fan of steakhouses and here's an example for you: Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar is participating and for $44 you can get lobster bisque, a filet and cheesecake (there are other options as well.) Or visit Rick Bayless' Xoco for a gourmet Mexican lunch for $22 and choose such dishes as classic ceviche or Sopa Azteca for an appetizer with Chiliquilles Yucatecos for an entree and a plate of dessert crepes to finish off.

Chicago Restaurant Week extends through February 8, so make your plans and expand your horizons and excite your palate! Go to ChooseChicago.com for all the details!