Cookies United LLC: 141 Freeman Ave, Islip N.Y.

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I do NOT mess around when it comes to rainbow cookies (or ‘rainbow cakes’, as we called them in my family). I consider myself to be a bit of a connoisseur of the colorful pastry, having grown up with them at almost every family gathering, and to say I’m picky about them would be a pretty massive understatement.

Facebook knows this about me, as I’ve reviewed different bakeries for them on multiple occasions, and have surely posted more than one status update about them. Their ad targeting team/programs are well-aware of this, and it was no accident that the ads from Cakebites have appeared in my newsfeed a few different times. I decided to send them a message asking if they’d like to send me a sample to review, and was delighted to get a quick reply saying that they were sending some out to me right away.

A few days later, I received TWO boxes of Cakebites to try- and, although I was immediately skeptical because of the sprinkles in the pictures, (to me that is an indication of low quality and inauthenticity) I was still excited to try them.

I opened the first sleeve inside the box and noticed right away that the sprinkles actually looked more like little pieces of chocolate than like plastic, and I decided to toss my pre-judging attitude aside for the moment.

I took a bite.

Okay. Wow. I kind of wanted to be disgusted by these simply because I wasn’t in a bakery in Brooklyn, but I just couldn’t be. It was actually super delicious! The cake was moist, fresh, and had very almondy/marzipan-y taste, just like it should. The jelly layer was a little on the thin side, but did have a good, raspberry flavor and stickiness. The chocolate was sort of melty and tasted like top quality ingredients had been used. Overall, it was a little too sweet, but really a pleasant surprise! It definitely fulfills a craving, and I love the portion control packs. I decided to freeze the rest of the box for emergencies after reluctantly sharing the first pack with my kids and husband.

I do not claim to be an expert where I am not, but I will say that the ‘Birthday Cake’ flavor was not for me at ALL. It was SO overly sweet that I couldn’t find anything I liked about it- and I DO have a pretty intense sweet tooth, so that’s saying a lot. This flavor will definitely be for the kids- and I’m SURE they will be perfectly happy about that.

Thank you very much, Cookies United LLC! A very yummy treat indeed.

 

 

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Made Restaurant: 1900 Main St, Sarasota, FL

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As a work-from-home mom, speed, ease, and convenience are key factors in the choices I make. When a friend suggested Made Restaurant as my first review for Mommy Magazine, a quick search told me that I could make a reservation on OpenTable, (i.e. without talking to anyone) that they are family-friendly with a great kid’s menu, and that there is a free parking garage, and my decision was made. My decision was Made.

We arrived at 5:30 to a mostly empty restaurant with our choice of tables. Quinn, my 2.5 year old was delighted by the fountain and the “fire that looked like ice cream cones” (patio heaters), and I approved of the partially enclosed patio, so we chose to sit outside. I love outdoor seating options with my kids, their inside voices aren’t particularly reliable yet, and I feel much more relaxed in the open air. On the table was a mason jar with a flameless candle inside, and the kids were totally fascinated by the fact that it was safe to handle.

The hostess brought over 2 (of the 3 total…I suggested to the manager that they might consider getting some more) highchairs, a coloring book, crayons, and menus right away.  Our friendly waitress, Alejandra, returned quickly to take our drink order, and reappeared almost immediately with glasses of water for Gabriel and I, and a straw cup with a lid for Quinny. I’d previewed the menu online, as I often do, and was ready to order our food. As all of you know, the window of opportunity with a toddler and a baby is small, and time is of the essence when tummies are already rumbling. While we waited for our meals, and the kids were occupied with the candle and coloring, I visited the restroom and was happy to find a cleverly-hidden changing table ready to be used for diaper changes, something thats too-often missing from more upscale restaurants.

By the time I came back, our food was being served. We quickly moved all of the hot dishes away from my 1 year old, Dori- who tends to grab immediately at anything and everything edible (or not) that’s placed in front of her. The presentation of the outstanding Tuna Poke Napoleon was quite beautiful with it’s layers of color and texture, and even Quinn, who is in a ‘white and yellow foods only’ phase, looked for a second like she might want a taste. That thought quickly vanished when a bowl of creamy, cheesy, penne pasta was served to her, and she wasted no time digging in. It was clear that she loved every bite, and Dori gobbled it up too. The adorable mini-bucket of fresh fruit salad that came with it was rejected by her but enjoyed by the rest of us.

My main dish was the grilled Caesar Salad with grilled scallops. Aside from too heavy of a hand on the dressing, this dish was awesome, with scallops cooked perfectly, crunchy corn bread croutons, and generous parmesan and anchovies. I was a little bummed that Dori really loved the scallops also, because I didn’t particularly want to share them. Womp womp. At least she was happy. Gabriel’s Pulled Fish sandwich was okay, but had so much more bread and sauce than fish that it wasn’t the balance I wanted. The cheesy tots on the side were an indulgent treat for me, but too spicy for my kids to enjoy, and my husband wasn’t a fan either. We also shared the smoked catfish appetizer and although we all LOVED the cornbread, none of us went back for a second taste of the spread itself. It had a strange smokey flavor that just didn’t taste right- and was almost a bitter contrast to the sweet cornbread.

Our waitress checked on us a couple of times, refilled drinks, and made sure we were well-taken care of, and I really appreciated that. I find that one of the biggest hurdles in taking my kids out to eat, is to make sure that I can eat also instead of only being focused on whether they do or not…and having help from wait staff is something I don’t take for granted.

At the end of our meal, as I always do, I requested a broom or dishcloth to clean the horrendous mess that baby Dori left beneath her highchair. I truly don’t mind doing it,  but of course I like it even more when I don’t have to. Alejandra said she would “absolutely not” let me do it and I thanked her.

Overall, this was a great choice for my first Whine & Dine restaurant review. I am so excited to be back in the “write about what you love” game, and happy to say that Made left us feeling that families were very welcome there. It’s always a gamble taking my kiddos out for dinner, and going to eat where we are treated attentively and kindly was a wonderful reward.

Blu Kouzina: 25 N Blvd of the Presidents. Sarasota FL.

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roll octopusgreek saladoutside  inside

When Blu Kouzina was still being renovated, my husband and I happened to walk past when the new owner was inside. He saw and heard us admiring the aesthetics and invited us in to look around. He warmly welcomed us and told us about the concept, and about the attention to detail of the quality of ingredients, and we agreed that we would absolutely be back once they opened for business.

Fast forward quite a few months and our rookie parent status meant that we were rarely taking the date nights that we needed and deserved. Well, we’ve been making a real effort to change that, and now that we’ve worked out an awesome babysitting trade deal with a close friend of ours, we are finally making time to enjoy each other and try new restaurants again.

We remembered how beautiful Blu Kouzina was, and after reading MANY 4 and 5 star reviews online, decided it would be the scene of our next date. We made a reservation for 9pm (apparently channeling our former NY life) and headed out to St. Armand’s Circle.

When we arrived, especially since it wasn’t yet ‘season’, we found very few other patrons and our choice of tables. We chose a corner table outside on the patio, and a waiter quickly came out to offer us beverages. One of my pet peeves is when a restaurant does not filter drinking water, and they leave you with the choice of disgusting Florida tap water, or ridiculously expensive bottled flat or sparkling water. This was, in retrospect, the ONE real gripe I have about our whole experience. Our bottle of water was $8. EIGHT dollars. We finished it halfway through our first course and ended up too thirsty but too cheap to do anything about it. Not cool at all. Anyway, moving on.

We decided to order 3 appetizers to share, partially because it was late for a huge meal, and also because we had a coupon for a free sundae at Ben and Jerry’s that we absolutely intended to use that night for part two of our date.

The waiter brought out a couple of rolls for us as well as a side of excellent herbed olive oil. The rolls, we discovered, were cold, and I thought maybe even a little stale. I wondered to my Hubs if that was the way they were supposed to be, or if our late dining time meant that fresh rolls just weren’t happening for us. I thought about saying something, but I was hungry enough that I didn’t really care. We didn’t find out until we asked for second rolls a bit later that those first ones *were* in fact less-than-fresh…and the next batch was hot, crusty, and really pretty darn perfect. Well, now we know for next time.

We asked for our appetizers to be brought out in whatever order they were ready, and the Xtapodi Shara (Grilled Octopus) came out first, followed shortly after by the Horiatiki (Greek Salad). The waiter told us that the Spanakopita was made to order and might be a bit longer, which was totally fine with us.

The octopus deserves it’s own paragraph. I can honestly say that this octopus has now ruined me for every other octopus I’ve ever eaten. It’s a food I’ve always loved, and was actually one of my baby girl’s first ‘real’ foods at around 7 months old, which I find pretty hilarious. Anyway, I always thought it was supposed to be slightly chewy but now that I’ve had this impeccably fresh, perfectly grilled, lightly flavored with olive oil and lemon version, I realize that NO! It does NOT have to be chewy at all. It can be melt-in-your-mouth, bursting-with-flavor, tender, sweet, amazingness. Seriously delicious and worth going back for without question. I probably could have ordered another one and easily polished it off by myself.

The Greek salad was bright and refreshing, consisting of tomatoes, cucumber, onion, olives, homemade feta cheese and green pepper, topped with extra virgin olive oil and organic vinegar. It was of superb quality and dressed lightly, which contrasted so nicely with the heavier parts of our meal.

The spanakopita came out when we were about halfway done with our salad which was great timing. They were piping hot and super flaky, and the spinach/feta/herb inside was decadent and delicious. I’ve had a bunch of different versions of this dish before, but it’s doubtful that any of them were homemade-to-order, and it really showed.

Just to briefly touch on the atmosphere since it’s what made me want to try Blu Kouinza in the first place, I found it incredibly appealing. It has a Nantucket-meets-Greece feeling with a mix of blues, refinished furniture, lanterns, and candles. Throw pillows and hanging flower baskets give it a homey, comfortable feel, and the open kitchen adds a sense of dining at a friend’s place. This ambiance is a huge part of what made this experience complete for me, and I couldn’t stop commenting on what great taste the owner has. The attention to detail clearly shows in both the decor as well as the food.

This was one of my favorite meals that I’ve had in a long time, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others or to return on another date night. I’m so glad we finally made it there and hope we can get back again soon. Bravo!

Cafe Evergreen. 801 Tamiami Trail South, Nokomis FL 34275 

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It’s true. I am not posting nearly as often as I once did. There are multiple reasons for this that all stem for the same source…I have a one year old. Going out to eat doesn’t happen very often anymore…because I have a one year old. When I do get out for a treasured, rare, date night with my husband, I never seem to find the time to write about it…because I have a one year old. When we go out as a family, it’s usually to places we’ve been before, or where we know the owners…because I have a one year old.

Today was different. Today was a VERY special day. It was the first day in over a year that I took an official day off from my one year old. Now don’t get me wrong. I loooooove being a mom. I loooooooove spending time bonding with, playing with, and taking care of her, but OMG, today was glorious.

First on the agenda was to finally go for lunch at Cafe Evergreen. I’ve heard such great things about it and the menu is incredible….sooooo many pescaterian options that sound amazing.

When I sat down the friendly waitress made some suggestions at my request and they were ALL appealing. Clearly I’m going to need to make a few more visits. I told her why it was a special day for me and she was totally supportive and amused, and stayed to chat a bit before she left me to ponder the menu options.

The manager came by soon after with a complimentary edamame appetizer which was a nice touch- although I didn’t love the strong seasoning they put on it. I prefer my edamame done classically with just a pinch of sea salt.

When the waitress returned for my order I told her that I was taking her recommendation of the Roasted Beet Reuben and I chose the Arugula/apple/almond salad as my side. She had mentioned to me that she’d never had beets (?!?) before that sandwich and that she really loved it. Beets are one of my very favorite foods, and lately I’ve been on a huge sauerkraut kick, so it didn’t take much to convince me.

As I reveled in my aloneness, I let my mind wander to this blog and how I used to find such satisfaction in writing entries. I looked forward to this moment of writing and reminiscing about my meal, and vowed to make more of an effort to stick with it even with the challenges that motherhood has brought. I decided right then and there that there would be more of an  effort to take ‘me’ days, and that those days would surely include more trying restaurants by myself like I used to in the ‘old days’.

My meal came out looking delicious and I dug right in. WOW. That sandwich was shockingly good. Fresh, lightly-toasted, marble rye, warm, sweet, roasted, beets, melty Swiss cheese, tangy sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing. These are things that I wouldn’t have guessed would taste so so so good together but seriously, it was one of the best flavor combos I’ve ever had. The salad was simple and perfect with a light, creamy, dill dressing that complimented the whole meal beautifully.

When the waitress came to check on me I raved about my lunch, so happy that I’d finally gotten down to Venice to check this great cafe out. She joked with me that given my day-off-rose-colored glasses, situation, it probably wasn’t too hard to impress me.

Well, maybe she was right…but this really was an absolutely perfect meal.

Lunch with a large side of freedom.

I’ll be back for sure.

Introducing my new guest writer, Littleforkinmouth!

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 Hello! I’m Baby Q, otherwise known as Littleforkinmouth, and my mama asked me to write an entry about my special 4th of July dinner. She made me some super yummy stuff to celebrate when my neighbors tried to keep me up all night exploding stuff and putting fire in the sky. My pretty blue plate included a veggie dog with sauerkraut on a whole wheat roll, corn on the cob, grilled mushrooms and zucchini, fennel salad with apples and red onions with a lemony oil dressing and some cut up watermelon. I still don’t have any teeth but I do pretty well anyway. I have a really good appetite and surprise mama a lot with foods she wouldn’t expect me to like, such as octopus, lemons, and olives. I tried the fennel first and it was really good. I especially liked sucking the lemony oil off of it. I didn’t trust the hot dog even though mom promised it wasn’t made of real animals, but I did like the roll with the funny shredded sour stuff on it. The zucchini was kind of mushy and Figgy the dog seemed to like it a lot so I gave it to her. The mushrooms were ugly. I didn’t want those in my mouth or my hands at all so I left them where they were. The corn was heavy and too hard to hold. Mom cut it up a little more for me but by then I remembered that I love watermelon most of all and didn’t want anything else in it’s way. I got three more helpings of it once mommy and dad accepted that I didn’t want anything else.

Next year I will definitely be requesting a plate full of watermelon and nothing else. Happy 4th! 

Bye bye!

Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni: Born in Brooklyn, based in Florida, available at many fine dining establishments!

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tortoni When the chefs behind Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni asked me if I would help them out by taste testing a few different versions of their product, I rolled up my sleeves, took a deep breath, and decided that out of the goodness and generosity of my heart, that I would grant them that favor. It is precisely moments like these that remind me of that cliche, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” While there isn’t paper money involved here per se, delicious tastes of dessert are worth way more than dollars as far as I’m concerned.

I grew up in New York, where it was common to see tortoni on just about every pizza place or Italian restaurant menu. The choice was usually tortoni, spumoni, or cannoli, and given the option of dried, candied fruit and nuts in spumoni (yuck) or ricotta cheese filling of a cannoli (Um, ew. Why would I want cheese and carbs for dessert after presumably eating cheese and carbs for dinner?), the choice was always clear to me. Add a single-serve sized paper cup that meant I didn’t have to share, a maraschino cherry and almond cookie crunchies on top and well, who could pass that up?

I didn’t realize until many years later that at some point I stopped seeing these delightful treats on menus. I didn’t even realize how much I missed them until this dessert duo brought it to my attention by offering me a taste of their version of this classic.

The first sample I had was creamy, cold, sweet, and sparked so many memories for me that I simply forgot to slow down and savor each bite. It was gone before I knew it and I was clearly NOT wearing my culinary taste-tester hat that day. I would definitely require another one to be able to give helpful feedback.

The second sample was a different story. I was mentally prepared to take small bites and really let all five senses tune in. The crisp cookie crumbles on top were my favorite part. They are blended throughout the cup giving a slightly granular feel and keeping that almondy flavor consistent from top to bottom. I saved the cherry for last, as I always do with any cherry-topped dessert, and it was a wonderful last juicy bite.

The taste is very similar to ice cream, but more like frozen custard with a slightly eggier quality to it. It’s sort of like someone melted one of those yummy, toasted almond, Good Humor popsicles, re-constituted it, used better quality ingredients, and then perfected that concept in a cup version. It was *almost* the perfect tortoni, but for me, someone who has a serious sweet tooth by the way, it was actually too sweet overall. Now that did not for one second mean that I left even one drop uneaten, it just meant that I actually had something other than a full rave to come back to the creators with.

And so, that brings me to the final version. The chefs tweaked the original recipe that they used by reducing the amount of sugar and the amount of crumbled almond cookies by nearly half. They brought me my third and final sample. The moment of truth. I used a small spoon so as better to slow my bites down and to allow me to savor every delectable taste. Now this is perfection. Creamy, sweet but not-too-sweet, crispy, almondy, cold, and just the right portion size (although I could admittedly eat 2 or 3 of these easily- I really shouldn’t).

This is a memory in a paper cup. A great memory…and now one that can live on in the present instead of only a distant past. Bravo!

You can have your own “creamy, dreamy, taste embrace” too! Find them at Mozzarella Fella, Solorzano, Don Giovanni’s and MANY more restaurants coming soon! Follow their Facebook page to see where they are going to pop up next! https://www.facebook.com/brooklynbiscuittortoni

And if YOU want to carry them in your restaurant, contact the chefs via their website for wholesale information:

http://www.brooklynbiscuittortoni.com/

Mexicali: 7303 52nd Pl E Bradenton, FL

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mexicali chips:salsamexicali my meal not deep fried chimi seafood

 

On the recommendation of a friend, Gabriel and I decided to stray from our go-to Mexican place, Mi Pueblo, to try something new.

We were happy to see that chips and salsa were complimentary since Gabriel has been known, historically, to walk out of a few Mexican restaurants where they charge extra for this staple.

We told the waiter that we are pescetarian (and then explained what that means) and asked him for suggestions. It turned out there were quite a few good choices for us on the menu- and most under $12. Sounds good to me!

I ordered the seafood Chimichanga (stuffed with shrimp, lobster, crab meat, portabella mushrooms and mixed cheese.  Wrapped in a Garlic Herb Tortilla with Cilantro Sherry Cream Sauce, salsa and guacamole)  but asked that it not be deep fried as the menu described it. He said that was no problem and told us both we had 2 options for the beans, but then corrected himself and said only one was vegetarian and that he would make sure that’s what we’d both get.

The food came out quickly and looked awesome. We each started with a taste of the beans which were a little on the salty side, but pretty tasty anyway. Gabriel offered a taste of his beans to me- and I said, we got the same ones, didn’t we? I then noticed that his looked totally different and called it to the attention of the waiter. He immediately looked embarrassed and said they looked different because apparently someone in the kitchen didn’t get his message that we both wanted the vegetarian option. Gee thanks…Gabriel was pretty pissed that he’d just had a bite of beans cooked with pork. The waiter apologized- sort of, but really just blamed the kitchen staff instead of taking responsibility for it.

Other than that, the meal was really quite good. My chimichanga had tons of flavor from all of the different types of seafood and big pieces of portabellas. The rice was not cold or overcooked (one of the only things I don’t like about Mi Pueblo) and the salsa and sauce that I asked for on the side was fresh, full of fresh, pureed cilantro (which I LOVE) and very flavorful.

Overall, I thought this was a great lunch with plenty of options for us non-meat-eaters and I will definitely be happy to go back.