Best meal of the year…so far!

The best meal if the year (so far) took place on Wednesday, April 11th at 8:30 PM in Chicago Illinois at a restaurant we’ve walked by tons of times going to our favorite Chicago Italian restaurant, Volarie. On this particular night Volarie chose to close early and fate dropped us off at Coco Pazzo Cafe’s doorstep. Thank you fate.




We started with a chopped seven vegetable salad topped with a thin slice of Parmesan. Amazing! Hardly any greens, but plenty of tasty veg. There was so much flavor and so little dressing of any kind.


John had a spicy spaghetti. We didn’t know the dish was spicy until they sat it in front of John with a chili pepper in the center. It had heat, but wasn’t over the top spicy, which was good for me since I don’t like spicy and I kept eating it off his plate!


I had this incredible butternut squash stuffed pasta in a rosemary, sage, butter, amaretto sauce. The best thing about this dish was the crispy bread crumbs sprinkled on top of the pasta. They soaked up the sauce and added another level of flavor to the meal. I wanted to coat myself in bread crumbs and roll around in the sauce.


For dessert we ordered gelato and spumoni. John had lemon while I had two kinds of gelato, chocolate and cinnamon.


And yes, we did close the restaurant (a first for us), but we left a big tip! Thank you Coco!



meatless monday —- black beans and quinoa a la rendezvous

lets cook!

have you ever been to the rendezvous in memphis?  its one of my favorite bbq stops in that town and though it seems completely wrong to stay it but one of my favorite items on the menu is the only semi-vegetarian dish, red beans and rice with cheese and crackers and a side of pickles.  yep cheese and crackers on a menu…..sold!  and i have been craving it like mad lately.  so i recreated it with a little lynley kick to it.  i made some homemade black beans with zucchini in them and put them on top of some quinoa, added a little sharp cheddar on the side and instead of pickles orange slices.  not bad for not having been to the grocery store in a week or so.


I see your 5 lbs box of chicken chunks with a 2 lbs pretzel at the Cubs game!

That would be spicy mustard sauce, cheese dip and a cinnamon icing dip...oh, yes.

Perspective-- the Northside Twist compared to my hand.

Shockingly enough, the mammoth pretzel was very soft and moist on the inside much like a really good human sized pretzel should be.

It looks like I'm eating a drum leg! While John and I shared the 2lb pretzel, we sheepishly watched a group of 6 share one-- all I can say is live hearty and eat hearty my friends.

It was so cold that April day that John drank hot cocoa! I thought this was a John and Stephanie food moment first (John doesn't like hot drinks), but he said no, he'd drank hot cocoa in front of me before...I still question this statement. I also used the giant pretzel box as a blanket...another good reason to get a 2 lb pretzel.

The Cubs even won!

Go Cubs, Go! (and yes, that is a giant macaroni noodle behind John-- food is everywhere!)

yeah that says 5lbs

certain things in life turn me into a 7 year old boy;  frogs are one, when i see one i must stop look indepthly at it and then resist the urge to find a stick and poke it, the other of course being chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs.


when i saw these at sam’s club i did not resist buying them.  i had to have!!!  and besides the inner 7 year old crying out for them, i had another justification for getting them. a couple of years ago at cosco i saw these exact same nuggets, at that time the adult in me didn’t allow the purchase of 5lbs of dino shaped nuggets and then the day i decided would be the day to get them cosco had switched to mikey mouse shaped nuggets, it was so sad. “i don’t want mikey moubut now after 4 years i can proudly chow down on some prehistoric shaped chicken chunks and contemplate how to replicate the volcano-esque way the made the bowl of ketchup look on the cover of the box.

Sunday Night Dinner: April 1- A Hearty “winter is coming” Meal

As you know Sunday night is a prime night for TV viewing at our house. While Mom, Dad and Lynley have been Madmen-ing it, John and I have chosen a different viewing path—Game of Thrones on HBO.

For the premiere of season two I wanted to tie-in with the show theme a bit (and eating a heart was CLEARLY out of the question.) I decided to make a “winter is coming” meal (since that’s a big phrase and plot point in the series). It turned out to be like 80 degrees that Sunday in April (I guess that was the April fools joke on me), so I thought I should have changed the phrase to “summer is coming,” but I still went with my winter theme weather be damned.

The meal: Pepper and garlic baked potatoes, Italian veggie sausage and onion, red wine mushrooms, broccoli and carrots.

I grew-up eating two kinds of baked potatoes: mom’s and dad’s. Mom’s were simply scrubbed clean, wrapped in foil and baked. Dad’s were scrubbed clean, smeared with butter, sprinkled with garlic salt and ground pepper and baked.  I like them both for different meals, but for a winter is coming dinner you need that warm kick of pepper and garlic.

Plus when you wrap the potatoes in foil they look like vegetable knights in armor. (Don’t forget to poke holes through the foil so the potato can steam!)

While the potatoes were baking (and they took about an hour and half at 400 degrees F.) I started the rest of the meal.

Dad’s red wine mushrooms are so good on top of baked potatoes. I love the way the sauce seeps into the buttery potato and seasoned skin. You can slice the mushrooms, but I prefer to remove the steams and leave the caps whole. Use as many mushrooms as you like. John doesn’t eat mushrooms, so I use just enough for me. Cut red onion slices; about half as many onions as potatoes. I like my onions thick and chunky, but you can slice them thin too.

Pour around two tablespoons of olive oil in your frying pan. The frying pan should fit the amount of mushrooms and onions. You want the veg to be snugish in the pan.

Turn the pan on medium heat and place the veg in the pan. Sprinkle garlic salt and pepper, then let the mushrooms and onions cook for a few minutes. Wait for the snap and crackle of oil to start before adding a drink or two of red wine to the pan.

Also add a tablespoon of Worcester Sauce (or tamari). Turn the mushrooms down on low and place a lid on top. Let them simmer for as long as you like. A drunk mushroom is a good mushroom in my book, so if the pan starts to look a little the dry (the sauce will thicken as it cooks) feel free to give them another drink!

You’ll know they’re ready when the mushrooms and onions have absorbed the wine and look dark. You really can just let them cook away as you prepare the rest of the meal, it won’t hurt them!

There are a few ways to eat a baked potato. I’m in the group that tends to cut the potato up and then mash it out on my plate. John likes to cut his in thick chunks to eat (no mashing). I learned my method from my mother. Although she just topped our potatoes with a little butter, the cut and mashed potato is really good for topping with other things like yummy mushrooms, sprinkle cheese, you name it!

For dessert we had homemade cinnamon apple cobbler with ice cream. Was I stuffed? Yes I was. Did we get dishes done before the show started? Yes we did!

And don’t forget…winter is coming.

meatless monday —-my greek bento box

ok i know it’s not a real bento box but each morning when i make it i like to think it is my own version of a bento box.  it might seem ironic that the lunch lady brings her lunch but can you blame me?   i know what we make and where it comes from and the only thing i have deemed eatable is making my own veggie sub.   so each morning i make my greek bento box:  pine nut roasted humus, olives with feta and some multi-grain crackers.  the first day i took it i knew those ladies would say “what is that?!”  and i’m proud to say at least one at the table knew what humus was and had eaten it.  ruth  when she was in the military was at a potluck and a middle eastern guy brought humus.  she made everyone try it to be polite and low and behold she wound up liking it!


This post is from my other blog Gretel’s Oven. I wanted to share it here because my good, sweet, real mother makes these cookies for us every Christmas. Now they’re part of Hansel and Gretel’s world too!