Tag Archives: Chicago

The Big Banjo

22 Feb

Eating in restaurants is a much larger part of the american lifestyle in 2015 than when I was young.  Being one of five kids in a big catholic family, it was a feat to not only get us all out, but surely it was a budget buster too.  Good thing we had the Big Banjo just a short car ride away.  When I was little, going out to the Big Banjo for pizza was a big treat.  Families lined up on picnic bench seating while old black and white films showed on the back wall.

When the movies stopped, words to sing-a-long songs appeared on the screen, and we would sing old favorites like Take Me Out to the Ball Game.  Big Banjo was a blast.  The kids got pizza and soda pop, a big treat, and the parents got a pitcher of beer with all of the other parents because, after all, it was Friday night.  The restaurant was always packed.

The Big Banjo.  A Friday night favorite for my family when I was a kid.  This picture does NOT include my parents huge evergreen colored Oldsmobile Delta 88 parked out front...

The Big Banjo. A Friday night favorite for my family when I was a kid. This picture does NOT include my parents huge evergreen colored Oldsmobile Delta 88 parked out front…

(photo Courtesy of Jean Turley)

Family restaurants are a little more sophisticated these days, and it just isn’t the big family event to dine out like it was 15 or twenty years ago.  A generation ago about 25% of the family food budget went toward eating out, and now that number has more than doubled.  Since families dine out more, it isn’t the “splurge” it was years ago.  Today when a family dines out, healthier options are available.   How do we eat healthier when we eat out?  Lets talk about that.

Healthy choices now abound at restaurants.  Here are a few tips to remember when dining out:

  • Order your protein steamed or baked instead of fried.
  • Make water your beverage of choice.
  • Ask for salad dressing on the side.  You tend to use less dressing when you dip.
  • Have tomato sauce over cream sauce.
  • Eat slowly.  Set your fork down between bites and sip your water.
  • Order veggies as a side dish with your meal.  If you are getting pizza, leave the meat off of it.

Even a small change can make a big difference toward healthy lower calorie dining options.  Do it for yourself, and be a good example to others.  At Big Banjo, we splurged with our food.  Now, eating out as a family happens more frequently, so choosing more nutrient dense food is important and getting easier at restaurants.  .

My beloved Big Banjo is long gone.  You can still find restaurants that are a splurge with the food.  But for a family, dining out is a regular event these days.  So make good choices.  What changes can you make with your family?



Insatiable “moanable” moment

1 Apr

Yes, that’s right. I said it. I love my “moanable moments”. Okay, those of you that went there…get your mind out of the gutter! I am talking about an aromatic moment. One that inevitably leads to a fantastic flavor moment. The culinary anticipation created by that first aromatic shot makes the head go back, the eyes flutter closed, ending in a throaty moan.   And a great aroma can cause an involuntary moan to slip out no matter where you are. We have all had them. Come on! Admit it!

I grew up in the Chicago area. Our local bakery had hardwood floors that were scuffed up and squeaky. The little blue haired ladies running the bakery had to have been 100 years old at least! Well… that is the way it seemed to me in my youth.  Shiny sparkling clean glass was the only thing separating the freshly baked sweets from anxiously waiting customers. Walking into that bakery always, 100 percent of the time, produced a “moanable moment” the instant you walked in there.  It was that good.

Entering that bakery as a child and walking in as an adult still produces that very same moment…a moanable moment. One in which your head involuntarily tips back a bit, eyes slowly droop closed, and you take a deep breath in. The exhale is in the form of a moan. The scents wafting through the air are just too good. Words cannot describe the sweet aromas, the anticipation of a freshly baked cookie or cupcake, the absolute denial of all calories about to be consumed, free of all guilt.

Few things evoke this moment, but it is a thing of beauty. A treat for the nostrils. A thrill for the palate. As a lover of food and wine, a passionate cook, an undeniable foodie, and busy mom, these prized moments are treasured. A freshly grilled piece of lemon mustard chicken. Decadent homemade pizza in the oven, bubbling away. The fragrant bouquet after uncorking of a fabulous bottle of wine.  Stepping into the bakery of my childhood on a visit home. “Moanable moments” come in all shapes and sizes. But each moment is terrific. What is your moanable moment? You know what it is!

Roasted Garlic! YUM!

18 Jul

I remember the first time I had roasted garlic.  It was many years ago at a sheshefoofoolala restaurant in my home town of Chicago.  The server brought a flat plate to the table along with roasted garlic, olive oil, and seasonings.  To my surprise, she smashed that roasted garlic with the back of a fork, added the seasonings, mashed it some more, then added some olive oil.  The server then invited us to enjoy this concoction with the fresh italian bread on the table.  Holy cow was that fantastic!  I became an instant convert.  Now I make it all of the time!  Good thing it is a snap to make!  Let me share it with you.

Take a bulb of garlic and cut the bottom off so that all of the cloves are exposed.  Place the bulb of garlic, cut side up, in a large piece of tin foil.  Drizzle some olive oil over it, and sprinkle a dash of salt and pepper on it too.  Seal up that foil pouch nice and tight.  Crimp the top.  Then simply toss it in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Take a whole bulb of garlic.  Chop the top off.

Take a whole bulb of garlic. Chop the top off.

Place the bulb into the center of a large piece of tim foil.

Place the bulb into the center of a large piece of tim foil


While that is baking, enjoy the rich nutty aroma filling the kitchen.  When it is done, pull it out of the oven and place on a heat proof surface.  Open the top and let the steam out.   This needs to cool a bit so you can handle it with your hands.  When it cools a bit just squeeze the cloves out of their paper wrappers.  Use it any way you choose.  The most difficult thing about roasting garlic is deciding what to do with it.  I have mashed it up and spread it on bread just like the first time I had it.  I have also added it to sauces, and it is absolutely outrageous in mashed potatoes!  I also use the oil that the garlic roasted with in the foil.  No need to waste even a tiny morsel of this!

That is all there is to roasted garlic.  Don’t you dare go buy one of those silly little garlic bakers.  First of all, I do not like kitchen utensils that can only do one little job.  Second, there is no need for one.  I have tried them, and tin foil works just as well as the little baker.  And by the way, my little baker cracked pretty quickly.

get that foil pouch nice and tight.  Then toss it in the oven!

get that foil pouch nice and tight. Then toss it in the oven!

Just look at this delicious roasted garlic!

Just look at this delicious roasted garlic!


A word of warning however.  This delicious treat may cause some gas.  Along with the breath thing, garlic has a little gas thing to deal with as well.  It may produce some methane in the lower GI system.  You may “make a little music” out the back end after having garlic of any kind.  (In my house we act surprised if a little backend music escapes and blame it on barking spiders somewhere in our vicinity).  This is fine is you are hanging around the house or with close friends after consuming this tasty treat.  But beware if you are heading out for a night of fun after eating this tasty treat.  I speak from experience…

We made the mistake of having roasted garlic, and lots of it, for Christmas Eve dinner one year.  We slathered it on the bread at our dinner table, and allowed the incredible flavors to overtake us…consuming way too much.  After dinner we toddled off to midnight mass in celebration of Christmas.  We grabbed our usual pew in the church…right up front.  Let’s just say that we spent the mass partially focused on keeping out butt cheeks pretty tight.  We never made that mistake again!

Don’t let a little gas stop you from this yummy treat.  Try it, and let me know what you do with it!  Let your creativity shine!