June 26, 2007

Go Roma...and go on Sundays when kids eat free!

Go Roma Italian Kitchen. We visited the Northbrook location, but they have many throughout the suburbs. See http://www.goroma.net/ for details.

You've had a busy weekend and you're not up for cooking dinner, but you don't want to succumb to the golden arches, either. Well then, my friend, Go Roma!

Go Roma Italian Kitchen offers "sophisticated" fast food. Think Panera or Corner Bakery with a bit of Italian flair.

I’d driven by the Northbrook location for years thinking it was a full-service sit-down Italian joint. I only stepped in recently when DH and I headed there for a weekday lunch. I didn't have my kids with me, but kept my eye on a nearby mom and her two busy little ones. “Doesn't she look familiar? Do we know her?” I whispered to DH.

"At this point all white people look the same to me," said my cheeky old husband, who, BTW, is as pale as they come.

I turned my attention to food once my salad arrived, but before I'd finished it, the mystery mom, Susan, and I realized we were schoolmates over 25 years ago! She was about two years behind me in junior high; our older brothers were friends back in the day.

But you'd probably like to hear more about my Smoked Chicken and Pear Salad ($7.99), a winning combination of smoked chicken and pear (duh) mingling with goat cheese, walnuts, dried cranberries and grape tomatoes atop a bed of baby greens. Since that first workday lunch, I’ve returned many times. Go Roma’s ultra-thin crust artisan pizzas, topped with ingredients like spinach, goat cheese and oven-roasted veggies, are surprisingly filling. They’re also way better than Panera’s, whose crusts taste like English muffins. My standard Go Roma lunch is now the salad and ½ pizza combo. This provides enough food for one large meal or, if I’m listening carefully to my tummy, a decent meal and an afternoon (or late night) snack.

Clearly I like it enough for a workday lunch, and their curbside to-go delivery sure is convenient, but what about my boys? I had to make it back with them—on Sunday, because that’s when kids eat free! All. Day. Long.

Go Roma offers several choices for children all priced at a reasonable $3.99: cheese pizza, noodles with butter or marinara, ravioli and other kids standards. Kids meals include a drink (milk, apple juice or pop) in a kid’s cup and a cookie. I’d like to see a few carrots or a piece of fruit with the meal as a side or a substitute for the cookie. Call me a stickler, but did you notice how white Splinter’s meal looks (right)?

The entire menu is pretty child-friendly, so there’s no need to stick with the kid’s menu...unless it’s Sunday of course and those meals are free. Free! Free!

Granted it's not Osteria di Tramonto* but we fed the whole family a satisfying meal for about $20; that works for me!

What else to know before you go: They are a bit liberal with the sprinkle cheese (AKA parmesan), so either ask them to hold back a bit or bring an extra Lactaid.

* Celebrity chef Rick Tramonto's upscale Italian restaurant located nearby in Wheeling...review coming soon!

June 18, 2007

Spicing it up with Spatulatta

The boys' remote reporting gigs are now live on Spatulatta, the award-winning by kids/for kids cooking show.

Episode 1 provides an overview of the fabulous Spice House in Evanston along with some seasoning suggestions: http://www.spatulatta.com/remote_reporter/spice_house001.html In

In Episode 2 learn how we get lovely cinnamon to sprinkle on our French toast and pumpkin pies. Watch as the boys transform fresh Vietnamese cinnamon bark into a delicate but potent powder that will spice up our next batch of Snickerdoodles: http://www.spatulatta.com/remote_reporter/spice_house002.html

Also, would you help our Spatulatta friends go Big Time by taking this survey? The results may help them get their own PBS show! Won't you please click?

Next up, pack up the Lactaid as our intrepid remote reporters head to a Wisconsin dairy farm to learn the art of artisan cheesemaking.

June 16, 2007

Pancakes with a side of Bluegrass (and a few cicadas)

We had a great time at the Wagner Farm Dairy Breakfast.
For parents who tolerate a bit of germ exposure there were animals to pet and even a real, live cow to milk (see left photo).

Germaphobes could send their kids to the clean, air-conditioned museum to try their hand at simulated farm chores such as gathering eggs and milking a plastic cow (right). Click here to see more in the Scrambled CAKE photo album.

June 13, 2007

Mere Mortal's Guide to Fine Dining

My boys, ages 7 and 9, prepared a list of fine dining etiquette:

DO: eat with your mouth closed, wear fancy clothes

DON’T: burp, fart, drop utensils, talk loudly, bring your own food, eat messy

Uh, well, that’s a start I suppose. Clearly they need to learn more, but I wasn’t sure I was equipped to teach them until I found this great primer for adults by Chicagoan Colleen Rush—The Mere Mortals Guide to Fine Dining: from salad forks to sommeliers, how to eat and drink in style without fear of faux pas.

The book serves up witty, accessible advice from a mere mortal’s standpoint, rather than the position of snooty, holier than thou expert who discretely implies that you must have been raised in a barn.

Rush offers tips on how to behave in upscale establishments (first off, don’t let your anxiety about doing the wrong thing keep you from enjoying your expensive meal). She provides a who’s who, explaining the roles of everyone from the sommelier to the sous chef, and the what’s what, detailing all those forks and glasses.

In addition, Rush provides an excellent overview of drinks from aperitifs to Zinfandel and meals from fish to fowl. For those who like to impress, she also includes how to say “tastes like chicken” in five languages. On a related topic, there’s also a French cram session to help you decode the an upscale French menu.

Chapter 12 “Eatiquette: things your mama probably taught you (but your forgot)” is great for parents. Over the course of several Q and A Rush explains things like:

When it’s okay to eat with your hands (artichoke leaves, crispy bacon, unsauced asparagus, corn on the cob, strawberries with stems attached).

Whether you should bring your children (Does the establishment have a kids menu? Have you notified them of your intent to bring a pint-sized guest?)

And, when its okay to blow you nose at the table? (Never!)

For a few more of Rush's tips click here.

Whether you’re on a date night or dining en famille, this book will prepare you for a great fine dining experience.

June 09, 2007

If You give a Mouse a Farm-fresh Veggie

We received our first Fresh Picks order a few weeks ago. Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks is like CSA for Dummies. With a true CSA, community sponsored agriculture program, a customer, or shareholder, purchases a season-long share from a local farm or co-op and receives a weekly supply of whatever’s being harvested. Recipients have a general sense of what’s coming in each week’s delivery, but for many, part of the excitement of the CSA experience is the thrill of the unknown.

My life has enough thrills. I am sure that as nice as it might feel to know we are developing a relationship with a local farmer, we’d wind up feeding a portion of our weekly bounty to our compost heap, that is, after watching it slowly rot in the fridge.

So that’s where Fresh Picks comes in. Fresh Picks is like Peapod meets Whole Foods. They deliver farm-fresh (often organic and local) food to your doorstep, but you choose what and how often to order. You can order a la carte (a dozen fresh cucumbers, two containers of goat cheese and some organic bison chili) or pick a produce box similar to what you’d get from a CSA. We tried it last month and loved it. (For the record, I paid full price-out of my own pocket.)

Here’s the run-down:

If you’re gonna order Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, you’d better clean the house, otherwise, when Irv personally delivers your produce you will be forced to stand and chat awkwardly in the doorway as you attempt to block his view of your messy living room.

When you get your box of fresh produce, you are going to want to identify all the items. If you can’t figure out what some of them are, check your invoice. If you still can’t tell your leeks from the green onions from the garlic tops, you will want to consult a book like the Visual Food Encyclopedia.

Once everything is identified, you will want to put all this fresh goodness right in your fridge, but if you’ve got a small side-by-side, you will have to finish the leftovers in order to make room.

While you’re putting it away, you will notice that they’ve sent you the freshest asparagus you’ve seen since you parents grew it in their garden 30 years ago. You will taste it, raw, with no added seasoning, and you will be stunned.

Now that you’ve tasted it, you realize that you must make something fabulous for dinner, right now. Even though dinnertime is in less than 70 minutes and you’ve got to run a carpool soon and you don't even know what to make.

You’re not sure how to combine portabellas, asparagus, leeks (or are they garlic greens?) and the delicious, fresh goat cheese (from a farm in Champaign), so you crack open Farmer John’s Cookbook, ever grateful that even though you didn’t join his Angelic Organics CSA he sent you the book for review, because it's not only fascinating, it's also a wonderful guide for cooking fresh seasonal (Midwest) produce.

Farmer John will inspire you to create a pasta salad that is richer and more complex than your typical steamed carrots/celery/chickpeas/Wishbone Italian deal.

While you are simultaneously grilling, chopping veggies and cooking pasta your phone will ring approximately nine times. The lady whose car you recently scratched will call you to discuss the $500 estimate she received to repair the two scratches the size of a quarter, and then your mom will call you only to say she forgot why she called, then your dad will call you and go on about some new business deal, and then AmVets will call to see if you have anything to donate, next a pollster will call, and finally someone will call asking about tomorrow’s order because a popular caterer has phone number very similar to yours.

As you run, crazed, from the stove to the grill, setting the table with the phone cradled awkwardly between shoulder and ear, you will realize you have to leave for carpool in 10 minutes. But your husband is home and he will volunteer to drive lest he be put in charge of Your Project.

You will finish your project, adding some chopped walnuts and balsamic vinegar to your oh-so-fresh grilled veggies and goat cheese and you will enjoy the most fabulous pasta salad you’ve ever made, or possibly even eaten.

While you’re enjoy your amazing pasta salad, you will be thinking ahead to tomorrow night’s dinner, imagining what you will create with the next part of your order. And you will recall the jar of jelly that came with your order and realize farm-fresh jelly, you have to make fresh bread to go with it.

Phew! No wonder it’s taken me a month to gather up the courage to place another order. Still, the experience drove home the fact they we are just not a CSA family…not yet, anyway. (Did I mention the parsnips that never got cooked?)

If you belong to a CSA, I’d love to hear how you make the most of your weekly share!

June 03, 2007

Stephen Colbert wants you...to try his new ice cream

Shhh! Do ou hear that sound? It's Ben and Jerry's latest flavor calling me. Even though it's tucked safely inside my insulated freezer, I hear it whispering my name. Kim...K--i--m.

Sweet and creamy Ben and Jerry's ice cream is almost always a hit, and DH and I are fools for clever marketing campaigns, so I grabbed Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream when I saw in the freezer section at Jewel.

With chocolate-coated waffle cone bits (reminescent of Kit-Kat bars) swirled with caramel in a vanilla base, this ice cream is a new favorite in our house. I'm shocked the the pint lasted through the weekend. Actually, I hope we finish it tonight; it's hard to sleep with Colbert's voice calling me from the freezer.

Sugar-smacking fun and sweet deals

We like fresh, healthy and organic, but there's no denying the sweet tooth that runs in the family. The boys indulged big-time yesterday at their friend's party at Georgia Nut Company's retail outlet in Glenview. I think the theme was March of the Chocolate Coated Goodies.

In a cheerful party room, the kids smocked up and put on their candy-making hats. The busy party leaders passed out items, demonstrated techniques, answered questions and offered help when needed. My boys had a great time, but I haven't seen their full bounty yet- a reported two pounds of chocolate! They slept at grandmas last night, so I wouldn't eat all their treats.

Georgia Nut Company offers candy making classes and parties for adults, too. Call 847-724-8405 for info or click here. Fun as it is, this type of party is not appropriate for nut-allergic kids.

Sweet deals

I wrote about June being a great month for Chicago-area book lovers, but it's also a great month for candy makers, cookie bakers, cake decorators and other crafty folk. Wilton holds their annual tent sale at their Woodridge headquarters this month, now through June 19. You can get some really sweet deals, 30 -70% off. I only recently learned about this event and as much as I'd love to go, I don't think I can rationalize it right now (even at 70% off!). Here's what a one blogger said about last year's sale: http://a-moment-captured.blogspot.com/2006_06_01_archive.html


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