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It's about food, restaurants, recipes and just plain eating.

Monday, July 21, 2014

More Than Just A Sandwich! Restaurant Review

There is a restaurant in Park Ridge called Panino's. According the the free online Miriam Webster Dictionary a Panino is usually a grilled sandwich made with Italian bread.

To be sure, Panino's serves a variety of sandwiches, some of them grilled and some on Italian bread. And they serve much, much more.

I often go for the Blue Cheese Burger, a favorite of mine, and so filling I often share a burger & fries (or soup) with a co-worker. Eating the whole thing leaves me unable to contemplate dinner later in the day so . . .

The burger is very good - well cooked to order and dressed simply with lettuce, tomato, sliced onion & pickle slices on a grilled bun, the bun hearty enough not to fall apart and tender enough to be bitten easily. The fries are the sort that are coated. Not my favorite but I'll take them if the soup is not one of my favorites.

Ministrone and a delicious Cream of Chicken soup are available every day, with a third "Soup of the Day" which changes seemingly at random. All the cream soups are good. The Tomato Basil with Rice is exemplary. Order a hunk of Italian bread & butter with a bowl of soup for a light but satisfying lunch.

Other burgers, all in the $8 - $9 range, include Mushroom Swiss, BBQ & Cheddar, BBQ, Bacon & Cheese and one with Avocado sauce, Bacon, Jalapenos & cheese. All come with fries or soup.

Sandwiches include the ubiquitous Italian Beef, a couple subs, a wrap or two and several versions of a steak sandwich. I hear "Da Pot Roast" (both the sandwich and the dinner) is to die for.

The salads are beautiful, generous and varied. Greek, Caeser, Chopped, Caprese, and Antipasto are only some of them. The greens and vegetables are fresh and crisp, the toppings ample and the dressings delicious and served on the side. From $3.50 for a side to $9 for the salads including breaded or grilled chicken they're worth the price.

Typical appetizers include fried mushrooms, baked clams, chicken wings and calamari as well as mussels and toasted ravioli. Two pages of pizza include Chicago & East Coast style, Pan, Stuffed, Artisan Neopolitan and Calzones. Name your poison and they'll make it fresh for you. Thin slices and "Grandma Pizza" slices are available at lunch for $3 to $4 each.

Paninis, Tostinos and Timpanos (a sort of stuffed pasta pie baked in a pizza crust with cheese) are also on the menu, as are dinner entrees ranging from pork chops (breaded or grilled) to skirt steak to pot roast, shrimp & ribs and chicken, BBQ or fried. Italian dinners include chicken or eggplant Parmigiana, Vesuvio, Marsala and Saltimbocca. Pasta dinners, too numerous to mention, range from spaghetti to ravioli to lasagna and everything in between, including seafood choices.

Fresh baked bread is served during dinner. A recently introduced wine list includes several reds, whites, Italian and other beers, sparkling water and soda pop. Catering, Lunch & Daily Specials and delivery are all available.

The Park Ridge location of Panino's is open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Sister locations include one on Broadway in Chicago and one on Dempster in Evanston. Visit their website at or the individual web sites for more information or to view the full menu.

Quotable quotes; in the category Don't Worry, You Won't Go Hungry!

"And I don't cook, either. Not as long as they still deliver pizza."  Tiger Woods

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Effortless Bento - Book Review

I was asked to read & review a new bento book and happily agreed. Effortless Bento, edited by Shufu-no-Tomo, is among the newest bento books on the market.

Exhaustive & encyclopedic, this book includes information on all aspects of bento making from choosing a bento box & keeping it clean to choosing & preparing foods ideally suited for a bento lunch. Tips for freezing uncooked foods are included as well, and there is even a section on sterilizing your bento box.
The "Effortless" part of the title refers to the numerous dishes that can be prepared in multiple servings and frozen or refrigerated for later use. Shelf life is indicated for each recipe as well as thawing tips (some foods can be packed frozen and allowed to thaw in the bento box) and reheating guidelines.

The layout seemed confusing at first, but after a second read I understood the sense of it. Frozen foods are presented first, sorted by type of meat (pork, chicken, seafood, beef), then refrigerated foods, similarly arranged. Each section starts with a few full bento lunches, including photos of the finished meal. Recipes for the dishes shown, and for others, follow.

Next is a section of side dishes, arranged by color. In bento making, including foods from five different color groups (red, green, yellow, black & white) is considered essential for good nutrition. This is followed by a section of easy to make pickles and convenient store-bought sides.

Recipes include step-by-step instructions, numerous photos and extra tips to ensure success. Also included are tips for packing wet foods, side dishes, sauces and "extras". Recipes for many "standard" or favorite recipes are here as well as some that may be new to you, as they were to me.

What's missing is a glossary of Japanese foods & equipment such as agar, certain vegetables, a Japanese omelet pan, and information on where they can be found. If you live in an area where Asian markets are plentiful you should have no trouble. A little research online or at the library can help you become familiar with these foods & techniques. That said many of the ingredients should be easily found in most supermarkets.

If you're looking for cute animal faces, apples cut into rabbits, hot dog octopi or sandwiches in the shape of cartoon characters you won't find them here. Instead you'll find simple, substantial bento lunches that will appeal to the adult appetite as well as to kids.

For someone new to bento making, this may be the only book you'll need. My guess, though, is that you'll want to add to your bento library as you gain experience and become more adventurous. If you are familiar with bento already, consider this a good addition to your collection.