Last Call!

If you want to be entered into the Cookbook drawing, leave a comment on that post. Sunday I’ll be picking three comments using and plan to get the cookbooks in the mail as soon as I have addresses from the 3 lucky winners.

Sorry for the long hiatus, which was totally unplanned. I thought I’d post about a few of the things I made for the gatherings we have hosted lately as well as a picnics and other things we’ve done, but the blog has been neglected in the flurry of activity.

I read a post sometime in the last couple of months in which the author was amazed that their family of 4 ate *sooo* many eggs, nearlyย  a dozen per week. I just laughed. One week recently I used 4 dozen — two dozen whites went into angel food cakes and some of the yolks were used in a key lime tart, pictured above. I think I could employ a small henhouse full time!

On another occasion I made the gluten free angel food cake pictured above. I’ll come back with a recipe for that later. In the mean time, here are pictures from our vacation:

Better than Hallmark, Mother’s Day wishes in the sand.

Crab Trap dinner for Mother’s Day. The kids especially love the buckets and shovels.

Some crabs we found, but did not eat.

Fun at the beach.

Sunset walks every evening.

Great Harvest Bread

I had tasted some bread from Great Harvest Bread Company, but I hadn’t been to their shop until a month ago when Tartlet 2 had a field trip there. I tagged along for the field trip and loved the peek into the kitchen. The oven = WOW! Grain milled fresh daily. That day we took home a loaf of Caramel Apple Crunch and devoured it like ravenous beasts. You would think we had never tasted freshly baked bread before!

With that in our memories, I took a couple of girls with me back to the shop last Friday for some Asiago Pesto bread, which was also awesome, and we were offered a taste of the Cinnamon Chip bread. (They give everyone a free sample slice of one of the day’s breads, menu available here.) It was so great, we had to take a loaf home. The guy behind the counter said it makes awesome French toast and so our dinner plans were made for us.

Check out that oozy cinnamon sugar on the crust. Yes, it did taste as good as it looks. It didn’t really need any syrup, but the kids smothered theirs anyway. Interestingly, some of the Tartlets prefer the bread plain and at least one preferred it made into French toast.ย  One Tartlet thought it compared favorably to doughnuts, only healthier.ย  The kids have already been begging — when will I go to GHBC again?

I think most of the loaves are in the $4.50-5.50 range, scones and muffins are $2 each, and they have some great oatmeal cookies (Tartlet 2 was given one at the end of her field trip and she shared!), as well as other things we haven’t yet tried. They have a ‘club card’ — get 10 stamps and get a free loaf, and the kids think I should race to get mine filled!

Great Harvest Bread Company
The Shoppes of Knollwood
2149 S. Neil
Champaign, IL

Just Call Us ‘The Apple Dumpling Gang’

Hopefully you’ve see the movie, but I’m talking about something else. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Saturday night Lisa of Champaign Taste, under the sponsorship of FoodBuzz for their 24, 24, 24 event, hosted a dinner for a few Champaign food bloggers at The Apple Dumpling in Urbana.

I had never been to the Apple Dumpling before, so I was looking forward to trying out a new place. They specialize in Midwestern home-style food. I had the fried chicken, a baked sweet potato (with brown sugar, mmm!), the salad bar, and, of course, the name-sake dessert, which was oooh, so gooey and delicious but I couldn’t finish either the main course or the dessert and even The Husband was too stuffed to help me out, as he usually does.

So, go check out Lisa’s post, complete with videos and photos (I’m hiding in the back and The Husband is sitting at the end of the table). You may find yourself saying, “Mr. Donovan, I gotta goooooo!” (get an apple dumpling, that is!) ๐Ÿ˜‰

Overnight in St. Louis

I mentioned before that we spent a night in St. Louis between Christmas and New Year’s and we had a fabulous time.ย  Now, it’s probably true that if you let us get away for a night sans Tartlets that we’re bound to get a little giddy, and it’s true that there were a few special things about the trip, like getting to pick out a new sofa in a style and color that I like after 14 years with a sofa that I intensely dislike, but even after you consider those factors the hotel/restaurant had it’s own contribution to the excellent night out.

The Husband specifically picked this Drury Inn for it’s Jacuzzi Suite, which we enjoyed immensely ๐Ÿ˜‰ The staff were the most friendly, happy, & helpful hotel staff that I think I have ever encountered. (Shout out to Aaron, et al!) We were given a voucher for 3 free drinks from their guest happy hour (I think it was 5:30 – 7:00 PM, but I’m not sure). The Husband had two Tequila Sunrises and I had two Margaritas and we enjoyed the snack bar filled with various salty snacks, chips & salsa, as well as carrot and celery sticks. They also have free unlimited fountain drinks and popcorn from 3:00 – 11:00 PM. The hotel was nearly empty during our stay so there were only a few other people in the common area and it was a nice start to the evening.

We had decided earlier in the evening, while driving to find a furniture store, that it wasn’t going to be worth it for us to get lost in St. Louis trying to find a restaurant when I hadn’t done any research ahead of time, so we opted for the hotel restaurant, not expecting a lot out of it.

Bartolino’s Osteria was far better than we had anticipated. The staff were very friendly, although The Husband and I were a little surprised to be touched on the shoulder so much when spoken to! There was a little mix-up with the menus as one of us was given an old menu and what we ordered from doesn’t match their website and it’s been long enough that I can’t remember specific details — I had an orecchiette tossed with olive oil, Italian sausage, and sprinkled with cheese and served with broccolini that was very good and The Husband enjoyed his pasta dish that neither of us can remember very clearly. After the pre-dinner snacks in the hotel lounge we were quite full and didn’t have any dessert.ย  The food was good and reasonably priced, the decor was what I think of as typical for an Italian restaurant, and the wait staff were courteous, making it a very pleasant evening.

Before we headed out in the morning for our day of furniture shopping, we took advantage of the free breakfast — not your typical day old donuts and dry cereal, rather a buffet of Belgian waffles, biscuits and gravy, sausage patties, scrambled eggs, and hash browns, as well as muffins, danishes, bagels, and other breads, yogurt cups, and possibly even dry cereal available. There were also the standard orange and apple juices, milk, tea and coffee.

I would heartily recommend a stay with Drury Inns & Suites and/or a dinner at Bartolini’s Osteria if you find yourself in St. Louis, not far from the St. Louis Zoo. I hope to return myself!

Drury Inn & Suites near Forest Park
2111 Sulphur Avenue
St. Louis, MO, 63139
(314) 646-0770

Bartolino’s Osteria
(314) 644-2266

Papa Del’s Pizza

A couple of days before Christmas, on a terribly cold and icy night, we decided to ditch cooking and get a pizza. The Husband chose Papa Del’s, which is a popular pizza place in Champaign. I had never been there and slid my camera in my bag on the way out the door, a rare event in dining out for me. Like many families who live here year-round, we tend to avoid Campustown like the plague, and several friends have commented that college breaks are an excellent time to visit on-campus dining establishments. An icy night may not have been the best choice, but the restaurant was mostly empty and we were squeezed between two other tables; I’m sure it must have been to avoid having to seat people next to the windows.

The Husband chose a family sized signature pizza with sausage, pepperoni, and bacon and an order of garlic bread. The waitress came with our drinks and then we were very glad The Tartlets were on good behavior and in pleasant moods overall, because the garlic bread took a little while and the pizza took nearly an hour. To be fair, the menu warns that pizzas take 45+ min to bake, but that can be a VERY long time for four hungry children (and their parents and people seated nearby). The cheesy garlic bread was tasty and divided up nicely among the six of us, although the hungry kids thought we could have had more of that. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ve had deep dish pizzas before, but Papa Del’s takes that a step further and makes a *really* thick crust. We aren’t huge fans of the thin and crispy crusts (almost cracker-like), such as at Monical’s Pizza, but you need to really enjoy crust to eat a Papa Del’s pizza! It’s like eating two slices of a regular ‘thick-crust’ pizza (the kids either ate one slice or didn’t finish one, rather than the normal eating a couple of pieces, and although I took a second piece, one piece would have been quite enough for me). The sausage and bacon pieces were huge. We took home about half of the pizza. Interestingly, they charge for a take-home box but will wrap the pizza in foil for free. We ate the leftovers for lunch the second day, making the $58 tab (with tip) a little more reasonable, but still a lot of money for a pizza dinner. If you go, I recommend calling ahead to shorten your wait.

Papa Del’s Pizza
206 E Green St
Champaign, IL 61820
(217) 359-7700

Mon-Thurs 11:30am-12am
Fri-Sat 10:30am-1:30am
Sun 11am-11pm

Sunday Brunch

One of the things my mom likes to do when she visits us is eat out.ย  A couple of years ago she had a memorable experience at Silvercreek Sunday Brunch, so it was on her list of things to do on her recent visit. Sundays are not calm, quiet days in our household. The older Tartlets and The Husband get up by 6 AM to deliver papers (Tartlet 1 takes hers in a wagon and prefers to be up by 5:30, The Husband carries for Tartlet 2 and prefers to not wake before 6! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) Following that, The Husband, and anyone who wants to help him, leave the house at 7:25 AM to go do the set up for our church (which meets in a gym so there is a lot of work to do) and the reward for the Tartlets is anyone who helps gets to go to Dunkin’ Donuts afterward. You would think he was passing out gold coins! They usually get home by 8:45 AM and then it’s time for showers and dressing and trying to get out the door by 9:15, which rarely happens, and we generally get home around noon. The Husband and Tartlet 1 are participating in a Lego Robotics team so each Sunday they need to be at their meeting place from about 1:30 PM until 5:30 or 6:00 PM. So we were a little concerned about squeezing in the brunch. But it worked out perfectly, despite the fact that I didn’t realize they take reservations for the brunch. The time before this visit it was quite busy and we waited about 30-45 minutes for a table, so I would definitely recommend a reservation if you are on a tight schedule.

Silvercreek is in a lovely building (you can read about its history on the website) and I love all the exposed, unpainted woodwork. On a dreary day it can be a bit dark, but it’s still a lovely place. Two of the specialties of the brunch are the made-to-order omelets and the Belgian waffles, which my breakfast lovers assure me are wonderful. I’m not so much of a breakfast person so I have skipped those stations in my visits. As in past visits, the spread included some breads – baked fresh on the premises, several salads, fresh fruit, biscuits and gravy, sausage, some form of potatoes (roasted, mashed, etc), various vegetables, pasta, and lots and lots of meat options including chicken, beef, pork, fish, and shrimp. Something for every taste!

One of the things I appreciated about this visit was that you could select a reasonably healthy meal from the options, not just comfort foods. In fact, I loaded up my plate with green salad, fresh fruit, roasted vegetables, and the tastiest talapia I’ve had in years. The talapia was so good I went back for seconds and when I was looking over the pan someone came from the kitchen with a fresh baked batch and suggested that I have some of the fresh while he removed the stuff that had been sitting. I hate going to a buffet and seeing food that has been sitting in the warming pans for hours, so I was especially thrilled to see them refreshing the pans in a timely manner.

They also have quite a selection of desserts. On my latest visit there was a blueberry cake (it was ok but not fantastic), a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, chocolate cheesecake, pumpkin pie, Black Forest trifle (again, ok, nothing to rave about), and they had a selection of cookies, brownies and bars. One of the things I enjoy most about dining out is having something I can’t/won’t/don’t make at home, so in that way the desserts didn’t wow me, but they were certainly good.

The wait staff were friendly, unobtrusive, and were quick to take away used plates and refill drinks. We were efficiently done with time to spare for The Husband and Tartlet 1 to make their meeting. On weekends with home football games, parents weekends, and other high traffic weekends for the University, I would certainly want to allow extra time.

Because The Husband paid the tab and I didn’t see any prices listed I don’t know the cost per person. However, for 3 adults and 4 children, the total for the buffet, 5 drinks, and tip came to $103.

402 N Race St.
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: 217-328-3402

Mon – Thurs 11 AM – 3 PM; 5 PM – 10 PM
Fri – Sat 11 AM – 3 PM; 5 PM – 11 PM
Sunday Brunch 10 AM – 2:30 PM; Dinner 5 PM – 10 PM

Less Than Stellar Moment

Last night we went to Radio Maria to celebrate our anniversary. Radio Maria has been my favorite local restaurant for several years, but last night was not their brightest moment. Earlier this year we enjoyed our first visit to the new tapas bar, but the restaurant side does seem to have suffered. Hopefully it was just an off night, we all have them, but from the comments of other recent visitors I’m afraid it isn’t.

Rather than following the typical seating style of staggering new arrivals throughout the dining area so diners don’t feel packed in, our greeter seemed to be filling the dining room from the front to rear. Although the dining room was somewhat loud, our server spoke so rapidly neither of us could clearly understand him. One of my favorite things about Radio Maria is the variety and the frequently updated menu, but we decided not to order a starter, in part because nothing sounded amazing and our favorite quinoa filled avocados off the menu. Still, we had to wait a very long time for our meal to arrive.

With no crab on the menu this time, I chose the “Grilled Atlantic salmon with a Jamaican jerk rub topped with spicy mango, pineapple, and papaya chutney with plantain tostones” (17.75). My small salmon portion had only the edges fully cooked, the middle remained raw and cool. The Husband wasn’t bothered by that and finished my fish. The plantain had a lot of cracked pepper on top, but lacked the flavorful depth and complement to the main entree I’ve come to expect from a Radio Maria side. The Husband ordered the “Pato Tacos! Seared duck breast served with a fresh gingered plum sauce, julienned vegetables, black beans, jasmine rice, and corn tortillas” ($22). He was quite pleased with his entree.

We decided to have dessert and I chose the Peach, Apricot, and Pistachio Tres Leches Cake, served with a caramel sauce. It was an excellent cake, dense and flavorful. The Husband ordered the pumpkin cheesecake, which was about half the thickness and half the width of a typical cheesecake slice, a scrawny serving for the $6 dessert. I didn’t taste it, but he said it was good.

Overall our visit to Radio Maria was mediocre this time and doesn’t leave me wanting to rush back soon.

/Radio Maria
119 N. Walnut St.
Champaign, IL