December is my favorite month of the year. I love the cozy winter days where we get a fire going and read a book snuggled under a blanket. I love waking up to snow. I love wrapping presents for my kids. I love the music, the festive pajamas, and the twinkly lights. Give me good cheer, bring me glad tidings, and merry everything.
There are many different ways to celebrate the holidays this month, and I hope you and yours are able to make this holiday season special. You know what’s truly special? Food within a food (something delicious wrapped up in something else delicious) and drinks that keep you warm.
If you’re needing something to make this holiday special for your belly, this December list of foods and drinks has what you’re looking for.
American Mule | Crane Alley
This drink is part of the short list of drink kits on the Crane Alley menu. The American Mule ($13) came with a can of ginger beer, two mini bottles of Wheatley vodka, and a miniature carryout container for lime slices.
I didn’t have a copper mule mug, so I used half tumblers, but I think any cup will do in a pandemic.
The drink was refreshing and very gingery; it was basically a spiked ginger beer. The vodka had my chest feeling warm even though the drink itself was cold. I liked the simplicity of the flavor and the bubbles from the beer. It made two drinks, and we enjoyed ours with lunch. It was a terrific daytime drink: not too heavy, not too strong. It was a great drink that goes well with anything on Crane Alley’s menu.
115 W Main St
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Corleone Zone | D.P. Dough
This Corleone Zone ($8.95) is a calzone stuffed with mozzerella, provolone, and marinara with a garlic-parma crust. It sounds like a simple calzone, but it had lots of flavor. The garlic butter and parmesan were baked right into the crust of the calzone making a salty, savory exterior that was irresistable. The cheese inside was melted and stringy when I pulled the calzone apart. It was all the best Italian flavors wrapped up in the amazing garlicky bread of the ‘zone, and it was still hot when it arrived to my front porch for lunch.
If you don’t want a simple calzone like the Corleone, there are endless options on the menu. You might like the Pineapple Express (pineapple, ham, cheddar, grilled chicken, bbq sauce, and ranch) or the Danger Zone (white onions, cheddar, jalapenos, hot sauce, ranch, ground beef, and taco seasoning). You can make adjustments to any calzone by adding ingredients like bacon or veggies, and you can add the garlic-parma crust to any calzone for 75 cents.
You know you want some cheesy goodness wrapped up in bread. ‘Tis the season for carbs, okay? You can place your order for pick-up or delivery here.
33B E Green St
Su-Th 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Aracini di Riso | Nando Milano
Nando Milano serves up elegant Italian cuisine in Downtown Champaign, and Nando’s arancini di riso ($14) were incredible. Two deep-fried risotto balls were golden and crispy on the outside, and each was filled with something different. The first was filled with bolognese sauce and smoked Mozzerella, and the second was filled with mascarpone, pepato, and spinach.
My god, they were good. Both were creamy and savory bombs of deliciousness with a side of marinara sauce. The spinach filled one had mild, herby notes with a salty exterior, and the bolognese one had a lot of flavor from the meat which made this arancini next level. The rice inside was fluffy and hearty, and they were big enough to split between two people.
You can check out Nando’s menu here. You can call 217-954-1439 to place your order for curbside pick up, carryout, or contactless delivery.
204 N Neil St
M-Th 5 to 10 p.m.
F + Sa 5 to 11 p.m.
Su 4 to 9 p.m.
Dirty Rice Stuffed Wings Meal | The Stuft Bird
I shared about the mac-n-cheese stuffed wings from The Stuft Bird last week, but even better are these dirty rice stuffed wings. If cheese isn’t your thing — or you want a wilder combo, The Stuft Bird’s dirty rice stuffed wings meal ($11.75) might be your jam. The meal comes with a choice of side and your choice of Faygo drink.
The dirty rice stuffed wings had so much flavor that I didn’t use the hot sauce packets that came with them. Inside the soft, short grain dirty rice were ground beef crumbles. The amount of rice inside these fried chicken wings was crazy: it was a lot of rice, probably 50:50 ratio of rice to chicken inside the crispy skin. It tasted like when I’m eating a meal of fried chicken and dirty rice, and some of the rice gets stuck on my wings, but I don’t brush it off; I just eat it — except it’s no accident with The Stuft Bird. The wings came with a good portion of seasoned fries that were really tasty and a cold can of red Faygo.
The ordering process is simple, and my order was ready at my pick up time. You can put your order in here.
The Stuft Bird
104 N Fourth Street
W-Sa 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Hot Chocolate Bomb | Teystie Treats
This hot chocolate bomb ($6) was dark chocolate flavored. If you haven’t heard of hot chocolate bombs yet, they are the newest trend for wintery drinks. It’s a chocolate candy sphere filled with hot chocolate mix and different mix-ins.
I put mine in a mug and heated up some milk to pour over top.
It was quite magical to watch the hot chocolate bomb melt and reveal the powder mix and marshmallows inside. Teystie Treats’ hot chocolate bomb had eight mini marshmallows that were gooey and yummy after the hot milk melted them a bit. This dark chocolate flavor of hot chocolate wasn’t that sweet, but I enjoyed it. The small ribbons of melted chocolate and bits of hardened chocolate provided bursts of sugary sweetness to balance the milky drink. This drink does require a bit of work (heating up milk), but it is a fun way to enjoy hot chocolate this winter.
Teystie Treats’ flavors vary from week to week, but you can message Teystie Treats to see what’s currently in stock and to place your order. When I ordered my hot chocolate bomb, they asked if I could meet at the Urbana Aldi parking lot for pickup, and it was fine, but they were ten minutes later than they said they would arrive. So I would recommend a delivery instead of a pickup for your treats from Teystie Treats.