Ties that Bind

One of the reasons we love the Finger Lakes region of New York is the sense of community. Everyone we come across at the wineries, in the restaurants, along the hiking trails or in one of the many quaint towns along the lakes is friendly, helpful and welcoming. They are always excited to share the stories behind the wine, their wineries, the fresh local fare and creative recipes as well as the many places to visit and things to do; but they’re also just open to simply making friends and sharing experiences. This has been the case both when we traveled with and without the kids and it’s what makes this an area to treasure (and an area we hope to call home someday). our view

Do you ever think about where you plan to live next? Or perhaps you’ve already found your home. Well, for Mike and I our plan is to relocate as soon as these munchkins are grown (but you never know how or when new doors might open). There are just too many things to do and see in this world and we want to explore. After our first trip through the Finger Lakes, it fast became a top contender for our next home – and much to our surprise as this was an area we had never really heard of and stopped through on a whim! So we went back this time trying to be skeptical – playing the devil’s advocate so to speak. You know, perhaps we had just been seeing things through those rose-colored vacation glasses and it wasn’t really everything we remembered. Fruit Packing House

Then we met Tina, our airbnb host for this beautiful little house on their family’s sixth generation farm and vineyard. Tina greeted us like we were long-time friends. We stayed in the old fruit packing house which had been lovingly converted into a beautiful private residence for her mother-in-law to live in when she returns for the summers from Florida. When she’s in Florida the house is rented as a little getaway for two. Her mother-in-law is a painter and many of her works adorn the walls, and the home is filled with natural light and inspirational views out every window. We’ve used airbnb (and similar vacation rental sites) numerous times, and this is easily our favorite of the bunch. While Mike and I spent the majority of our time touring the area, visiting wineries and hitting many of the area’s delicious restaurants, we also spent time with Tina and her husband Eric, which led to one of our most idyllic vacation moments. tying vines

As we drank local wine, shared stories and listened to a local band with Tina, Eric and their good friend Laury (at one of our favorite restaurants which we’ll post about soon), Mike and I expressed our love for the area and for learning about wine and wine production. The next thing we knew Tina invited us to help down at the vineyards. It was time to tie the vines. So, the next morning we met Tina at the farm and she gave us a brief lesson on how to carefully, but securely tie the vines. We spent the next four hours on the side of the hill, with Lake Seneca behind us, vines all around us and the sun on our faces. So much for playing devil’s advocate! The Finger Lakes, once again, called us home. heaven on earth

We learned a few things that morning as we tied the vines of one of our favorite varietals, Cabernet Franc. (Hopefully my black-thumb won’t ruin the 2015 production!) Wine production is an incredibly hands-on and intricate process. It’s labor intensive. It’s detail-oriented. It’s time consuming and it requires a great deal of knowledge. But it’s also peaceful and meditative, challenging and interesting, consistently unique and something that allows for creativity and inventiveness. In fact it’s not unlike cooking to us in that regard. It’s absolutely something we love. We could have stayed out there for days! Alas, we were running short on our time and wanted to squeeze in a few more wineries and restaurants. So after our zen-like morning, we dusted off and stopped in at Red Newt Cellars & Bistro just up the road. Red Newt Cellars

Our motivation for stopping in was three-fold – 1) We wanted to see if they had any little stuffed Red Newt animals to bring home to Miss A (we were tasked with finding her as many winery mascot stuffed animals as possible), 2) We heard they provided a delicious, fresh lunch and had a beautiful deck on which to enjoy it, and 3) They sell Verjooz. Verjooz, or verjuice, was created by our very own hosts – Tina and Eric and the Finger Lakes Food Company, and from the very same grapes we had just been tying! It’s a green juice, harvested from Cab Franc grapes at a Brix measurement of about 10-12. In layman’s terms, that means the grapes are young and still primarily sour. Most table wines are produced from grapes harvested with a Brix measurement between 21 and 25. Verjooz is not something you’d want to drink, but rather use to enhance recipes. It brings freshness to recipes and enhances the flavors of the dish, similar to using a splash of citrus (That’s why they refer to it as the “lime of the vine.”). verjooz

The two recipes that follow, are hardly recipes. They are simple dishes, easily prepared and they hardly need instruction. That said, they are flavorful, delicious and ideal for summer lunch on the deck, in the sun, while enjoying a glass of wine (red or white pairs nicely). They are also perfect for using Verjooz! The first is a grilled cheese sandwich inspired by our lunch at Red Newt (which incidentally was another place we enjoyed meaningful conversations with the tasting room hosts and guests). It’s served on house-made anadama bread with New York state sharp cheddar. Additional ingredients are available including bacon, kale and, when in season, tomatoes. We’re also sharing a recipe for a side dish (which I have been eating as a light lunch as well), a cucumber-dill salad. lunch at Red Newt

The salad is easily assembled in about 10 minutes. Using a mandoline, we sliced an English cucumber and a shallot. cucumber and shallots

Then we chopped up about 1/8 cup of fresh dill. I never used to enjoy dill, but lately I find myself absolutely craving it – on fish, in salads, even on French toast! Interesting how our tastes change over time. dill

We then tossed the veggies with white wine vinegar, Verjooz, honey and salt and pepper. cucumber dill salad

The result is a sweet and sour salad that makes for a great light lunch with some French bread, or a side dish to a picnic meal. Mike and the kids typically don’t enjoy cucumber, but since we were doing a little “cooking around the world” stateside, they were willing to indulge me. (The kids were actually really excited to be cooking for the blog again. They both even stopped playing to help in the kitchen the entire time!) I gave the salad 4 spoons (it’s a winning combo of flavor, simplicity and ease), Mike and Mr. N gave it 3 spoons and Miss A, 2 spoons.

Print the recipe: Cucumber-Dill Salad

bread and butter

For the grilled cheese, the kids buttered the bread and massaged the kale (it really does work!). We also toasted the buttered side of the bread on a griddle until golden brown. massaged kale

We then sauteed the kale with shallots, garlic, a splash of red wine vinegar and Verjooz. kale and shallots

Next we assembled our sandwiches. I chose kale, tomato (heirloom – frozen from last summer) and bacon. The kids opted for only bacon, no surprise there. While I’d prefer they tried the kale, in the spirit of Red Newt, sandwiches are made to order! grilled cheese

Once assembled, we baked the sandwiches at 300F until the cheese was good and melty. I should note here, we didn’t use homemade bread or NY state cheddar, but if you have it on hand, go for it! If you don’t, any bread and sharp cheese combo will do. We used sourdough and Kerrygold Dubliner Cheese. Grilled cheese and kale sandwich

It’s no surprise the sandwiches went over well. It’s hard to go wrong with a grilled cheese sandwich. A hint of sourness from the bread and Verjooz, a salty bite from the bacon and cheese, sweetness from the shallots and tomato, and a slight bitterness from the kale, not to mention the crunch of the toasted bread – it covers nearly the entire flavor profile wheel! Mr. N and Miss A both voted 4 spoons (Actually, Miss A was insisting it was 5 spoons – off our charts!). Mike and I gave them a solid 3 spoons. However, what was surprising is that Mr. N requested to try a bite of my sandwich, kale and all, and liked it! He even said he’d eat one that way next time. Nicely done Verjooz! I think a new slogan might be in order – Verjooz, for making vegetables your kids will eat!!

Print this recipe: Grilled Cheese and Kale Sandwich

Side note: while we didn’t find a red newt for Miss A, she did make out like a bandit from this trip!

Miss A's winery friends.

Miss A’s winery friends posing for a “family picture.” Photography by Miss A.

And a Red Newt (well, black in this case) still made it home. Red Newt Cellars & Bistro

Marks of Time and Travel

We sure are happy May has arrived! Speaking of May, do you have any traditions for the spring festival, May Day? When I was growing up my mom would help us gather flowers from around the house. We’d bundle the flowers, place them on a neighbor’s doorstep, ring the doorbell and run. It was a mother-approved game of ding-dong ditch!may day

Fast-forward 30-some odd years and my children and I have put our own little twist on the tradition. Each year, we pick-up a bouquet of flowers, or a nice outdoor flower arrangement, and we leave it on my mom’s doorstep. The kids take this very seriously – there are many heated discussions about the best place to hide, who will ring the doorbell, who will carry the flowers, and ultimately how they will run back to the car (which I’ve parked down the street well out of sight). 30 years later

Some years my mom is surprised, other times she does a good job of appearing surprised. Sometimes we drive away with the kids in fits of giggles and so proud of their stealth-like maneuvers, and other times they hide at the side of the house and pop out just as my mom wonders aloud where the flowers possibly could have come from! This year was a hide at the side of the house year; however, still complete with lots of giggles.girl scout

Giggles. This house is full of giggles. Especially with Miss A around. She’s either making herself giggle, or making the rest of us giggle. She is definitely a character, and definitely keeps us on our toes! She’s been spending a lot of time practicing dribbling a basketball. However, don’t ask her if she’s going to play basketball, which is what Papa recently asked her. She quickly replied as though it was the most ridiculous of suggestions, “Papa, have you not looked at me lately,” referencing her small height while looking way up at the basketball hoop. Then she continued dribbling before running off into cartwheels. Constant motion this one!

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

Photo Credit: Adapt Theater

Speaking of Papa and Nana, they have joined us for the past few weeks. They are up from Florida to help us through Mr. N’s busy play season and also to give Mike and I a little respite! We’ve all been so grateful for their visit. I don’t know what we would have done without them these past few weeks!

Photo credit: Adapt Theatre

Photo credit: Adapt Theatre

Mr. N’s show opened a few weeks ago. It has since received a Jeff Recommendation, a big deal here in Chicago theater. He’s having the time of his life and again, we couldn’t be more grateful or proud. I’ve often said there are few things I enjoy more than watching him perform. It’s such a mix of so many emotions – pride, love, amazement, excitement, happiness, surprise, and peace. Then of course there’s the emotions he elicits through his character, and this play takes you on quite the roller coaster. I have yet to leave with a dry eye and I’ve seen it three times already!

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

We still have a few more weeks of performances to go, but I can feel the wind down coming. There’s a calm on the horizon. Hopefully it’s not one of those calms followed by a storm!

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

I’m dying to get back in the kitchen, especially with summer on the way. I’ve been drooling over many of the recipes on my favorite blogs. It’s been near torture seeing these beautiful recipes and photos and knowing I just don’t have the time to put much thought into cooking right now. Soon though. Definitely soon. In fact, I’m going to have the kids do a little cooking around the world with us on our first free moment to commemorate our latest travels.

Finger Lakes Region, NY 2011

Finger Lakes Region, NY 2011

Thanks to Nana and Papa, Mike and I got away for a week this month for our 15th anniversary (which is actually coming in June). We toyed with several different places to go, but one place kept coming back to us. It’s a beautiful slice of the world we stumbled on randomly on a road trip back in 2011.

Watkins Glen State Park, NY 2011

Watkins Glen State Park, NY 2011

And it’s a place we returned to on purpose in 2013.

Grape juice tasting  - FLX, NY 2013

Grape juice tasting – FLX, NY 2013

The Finger Lakes Wine Country of New York drew us in, spoiled us with all of its charm and beauty and kept a piece of our souls. It has a way of welcoming us into its fold and keeping us coming back.

Anniversary in FLX, NY 2015

Anniversary in FLX, NY 2015

How could we not spend a special anniversary in such a place?! And I have to say this adventure did not disappoint – in the least. So in the next week or so, to keep the memory of this trip and the fire it ignited within us alive, we’re going to break our hiatus and cook up one or two dishes inspired by our latest (but certainly not last) visit.

Until then, I came across this quote yesterday and it summed up exactly how the Finger Lakes have repeatedly made me feel. We love to travel, we’re lucky to have seen many amazing places on this earth, but we’re especially grateful to have experienced places that call to our souls.

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” Anthony Bourdain

P.S. I had no idea this was going to be such a lengthy post! I guess I’ve missed both writing and cooking!

Torrents of Spring

Torrents of Spring – a comical little story by Hemingway if you like satires and are familiar with the writing style of his generation. It’s also a rather fitting description of our life.

Hello! It has been quite some time since our Chopped Challenge. As you may have noticed, we are on a bit of a hiatus here at Eat, Play, Love; however, before we continue the self-imposed pause on our journey, I wanted to share the winning recipes from our big day, a few updates and a teaser.

You may remember, our appetizer basket required the use of rice flour, macadamia nuts, Parmesan cheese and spinach. Miss A and I made a roasted garlic macadamia nut hummus with spinach and macadamia pesto served with rice flour fry bread. While it was delicious it was no match for Mike and Mr. N’s hand-made rice flour pierogi filled with potato and bison meat and served with a butter macadamia nut sauce. pierogi

Print the recipe here: Pierogis

Then we had a meatless basket which challenged us to combine cauliflower, kale, apricots and chili. Miss A and I opted for a slow cooker recipe since we had to jet out mid-event to the birthday party on that cold, snowy day (doesn’t seem fair that months later we’re still waking up to snow!). The strategy paid off in the end when our chili nachos won the round against Mr. N and Mike’s fried vegetable spring rolls with chili apricot sauce. The funny thing is, that I much preferred the boys’ dish. In fact I prefer their take on spring rolls to those I’ve had in restaurants. But the majority rules, and the chili was a hit with the boys who ate leftovers for the rest of the week! chili nachos

Print the recipe here: Chili Nachos

Last, but definitely not least, was our dessert round. This is often the toughest round and typically where Mike’s teams have lost in the past. Dessert is his weakness. It was much the same this year since Miss A and I brought out the berry semi-freddo using the basket ingredients of puff pastry, oreos, peppermint schnapps and cream cheese. It was the clear victor over Mike and Mr. N’s oreo crusted, mint-infused cheesecake. berry semi-freddo

Print the recipe: Berry Semi-Freddo

Thank you again for participating in and following along with our annual Chopped Challenge. It’s one of our favorite things to do as a family each year. Speaking of family, we’re all doing well. Thank you to those of you that have reached out. We are all alive and well, just busy, busy, busy. The kids’ schedules and a few trips and adventures on the horizon have turned our lives a bit upside down once again. We’ve had to reprioritize some things and sadly blogging had to take a back seat.

Miss A is rolling along in first grade and still loving every minute of gymnastics. She and Mike also found time to hit the daddy-daughter dance again this year (notice all those missing teeth!). IMG_4479

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As for Mr. N, well, he’s found himself in another play in the city! He auditioned last month and rehearsals are now underway. He’s the only child in the play and has about 100 lines! It is an original screenplay about the Oklahoma City bombing, which was now 20 years ago! He’s very excited, as are we.play practice

Well, that’s all for now folks. I have to run get Miss A’s dinner made before gymnastics. We miss you all and want you know we’re still silently lurking in the blog world. We hope to be back sometime over the summer, at which point we might have some news about our next big adventure. Until then, cheers!

Chopped Challenge 2015 – A Live Blogging Event

9:19 a.m. CST
Well, the big day has finally arrived. Blizzard

While most of America recognizes today as Super Bowl Sunday, in our house it’s more commonly known as Chopped Challenge Day. As you can see by the pictures, it’s also our first big winter storm of 2015. Burrrr

Certainly we’re no strangers to this kind of weather and typically when it falls on a weekend, we’ll hunker down and get cozy. Any other Chopped Challenge day and this would be perfect. But this year, we’ve got some extra challenges coming our way. snow snow snow

The match-ups were drawn by number and the girls are once again pitted against the boys. Mike and Mr. N’s team, Team Ninjago is facing the reigning, three-time champion Kristy and her partner for this year, Miss A. The girls’ team, otherwise known as, Team Miyagi is feeling rather confident this year, perhaps too confident? Team Miyagi

Meanwhile, Team Ninjago is down a man. Mr. N had a birthday party sleepover (where we’re guessing there was little sleep involved) last night and won’t return until mid-day. Will ChefDad be able to carry his team to victory? Will Mr. N’s sleepless night spell trouble for the boys? team ninjago

Only time will tell, but Team Miyagi has challenges of its own to face as well. Miss A also has a birthday party to attend today, taking both her and mom out of play for a good 2 to 3 hours! How will the girls manage to overcome that hurdle? Especially when it means shoveling is likely involved. snow day

No matter. The show must go on. This is Chopped Challenge Day after all. Will Kristy maintain her Championship title? Will the boys take advantage of their underdog status and lull Team Miyagi into complacency? We’ll find out as Chopped Challenge 2015 officially begins.

Ladies and gentleman the games begin now. The votes are in and despite the creativity of all the baskets, the winners were clear. With a runaway victory, the Appetizer Basket for this year is….Appetizer Basket

Rice flour, Macadamia Nuts, Parmesan Cheese and Spinach! What will our teams come up with this year? Stay tuned. We’ll be back and adding to this post, live throughout the day.

11:30 a.m. CST
We’re about an hour and a half into the event now. Let’s see where things stand. crunch time

Uh oh boys. Looks like the girls are all business now. Can’t you just see that drive in their eyes! Not to worry, ChefDad appears to have things under control – maybe not the kitchen counters, but certainly the food. Those look like some nice round cuts of dough. Rice flour and spinach perhaps? dough making

After the first set of dishes was washed, the girls entered the cooking arena. But wait, is that berry residue in the food processor? mixing it up

What is Team Miyagi up to? They look like they’re having too much fun, and don’t they know this is the appetizer round? Let’s hope their complacency hasn’t gotten the best of them. kitchen fun

While the girls laugh it up, ChefDad is all business. Potatoes and some kind of ground meat….any guesses what he’s going for yet? Interesting. meat and potatoes

Phew! Looks like the girls aren’t only working on the sweet stuff. They’ve got some garlic and oil going in the oven. Hmmm. Things are getting heated up around here! garlic roasting

We’ll check back in with our contestants again soon. Hopefully Mr. N will have returned to the mix by then!

12:32 p.m. CST

Last we checked, Team Miyagi was putting some garlic into the oven. However, there’s no garlic in sight now. Instead the girls have whipped up some cream. Is this part of their strategy? Dessert first? whipped cream

Strategy or not, Team Ninjago is working at full capacity now that Mr. N has returned. Mr. N returns

Good thing as it appears ChefDad experienced a setback with his dough while away. dough redo

We can’t be certain, but we thought we may have heard some sniggering from the other corner of the kitchen. Fortunately, Mr. N seems to have ChefDad back under control. team ninjago

And while the boys are still working away on the appetizer round. It looks like Team Miyagi has kicked off our main course basket. If we’re not mistaken, they haven’t even started their appetizer basket. This team appears to have just run amok!

So what was the winning main course basket for 2015? Again, another runaway winner…Chili, Kale, Apricots and Cauliflower! Main Course Basket

Looks like the girls are well underway with this one. chili fixins

Could they be taking the chili suggestion literally? Well, one thing is for certain. The Bewitching Kitchen seems to have given the girls a leg up with their cauliflower. It seems like they’ve turned it into cauli-rice. Cauli-rice

But wait, where’s Miss A? Miss A there is no sabotaging the other team. Get back to your corner! sabotage

Now the girls have some veggies in the mix. Carrots, kale, onion and celery. Could this be going where we think it’s going? veggies

While the girls prepare to head out for a few hours, the boys are still hard at work on the appetizer round. Hopefully they can use this uninterrupted kitchen time to their advantage. boys team

Oh wait! It looks like the girls are too. Is that a slow cooker set to low? slow cookin'

Now that’s clever. They’ll still be cookin’ while they’re out playing! Good strategy ladies. Now let’s see what the boys can do with the kitchen. Surely it won’t look this clean when the girls return. clean kitchen

UPDATE: 2:24 PM.

Well, Team Miyagi is off working on their crane technique or something. Impressive that they ventured off into this blizzard, but it appears that there’s more danger at the birthday party than on the roads.
IMG_4374
Nice timing on the picture. Hope she made it into the foam pit.
IMG956026
Yup. She’s OK!
Meanwhile, Team Ninjago is changing things up a bit too. They’re done with our appetizer (well, all but the finishing touches), and Team Miyagi hasn’t even started, but somehow the girls are pretty much done with dessert and the main course. They’re hard to explain. Superb Owl Sunday is all about making adjustments, though, and Team Ninjago audibled into their dessert preparation too. Sly move.
IMG_4310
What could Team Ninjago possibly be doing now?
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In the meantime, stay safe, Team Miyagi! This picture says it all: “We love you, but you’re going down.”
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5:00 p.m. CST

This is shaping up to be quite the showdown ladies and gents, and it’s looking like a long night for our teams. The three hour delay for Team Miyagi has really thrown off the timing of the event. The boys kept busy while the girls were away – chopping veggies, chefdad

taking selfies…selfie

They’re feeling rather confident, and perhaps they should with this dessert prep already underway:twists

crumpled oreos

But Team Miyagi didn’t waste any time upon their return. With Miss A a bit jumpy and Kristy’s knuckles a bit whiter after braving the mean, unpaved streets, the girls got right to work. hummus making

Looks like they’re putting that roasted garlic to work with a bit of chickpeas and macadamia nuts. In other words, their appetizer is finally underway! (As is this snow storm!) snowstorm

Within a few minutes of being home, it looks like Team Miyagi already has an appetizer ready to go. Hummus? macadamia hummus

But wait, where’s the girls’ spinach, parmesan and rice flour? Oh…here’s the spinach and parmesan. Looks like a fancy hummus with pesto. hummus and pesto

Now that’s a clever appetizer; although we don’t yet know what it’s pitted against. Team Ninjago has kept their appetizer hidden since earlier today while they’re hard at work on the main course. veggies and shrimp

spring rolls

Meanwhile, the girls are finally putting the rice flour to use. It looks like some kind of dough. rice flour dough

It is and it’s heading to the fry pan! Fry bread maybe? fry bread

Whatever it is, it sure looks tasty! What’s up next for our marathoners? Looks like Kristy and ChefDad have busted out the wine. They’re in for a long night for sure! wine time

At least no one has to venture back out in this mess. snow day

We’ll be back soon, but with the fading light the pictures may be less than ideal. On a positive note, we had light past 5 p.m. today! Spring is on the way. Right?!

5:37 p.m. CST

This just in – We have the Appetizer Round results!

The dishes put forth were:

A roasted garlic macadamia nut hummus with spinach and macadamia pesto served with rice flour fry bread.hummus and fry bread

And a hand-made rice flour pierogi filled with potato and bison meat and served with a butter macadamia nut sauce.pierogi

And the winner is….

Team Ninjago with their pierogi!

The spoon breakdown was as follows: Team Ninjago (Pierogi) – ChefDad (3), Mr. N (3), Kristy (3) and Miss A (4)

Team Miyagi (Hummus) – ChefDad (3), Mr. N (2), Kristy (3) and Miss A (3)

It was a close one, but it looks like the boys have won the first round. Kristy and Miss A certainly can’t be feeling complacent now. We’ll just have to see how their chili stacks up to the boys Asian rolls.

6:47 p.m. CST

Main course preparations are underway. Looks like the girls are using their chili to plate some nachos. What a great dish for game day! It smells fantastic too. nachos

queso fresco

And what is Team Ninjago up to? Looks like they went for some fried veggie spring rolls. veggie spring rolls

Wait! What’s this? The results are already in? So what did the Main Course Basket turn up this year?

Well, Team Ninjago brought Fried Vegetable Spring Rolls with Chili Apricot Sauce to the table. Main Course Spring Roll

And Team Miyagi whipped up some Chili Nachos. Chili Nachos

The winner is….

Chili Nachos! Things are certainly interesting now. It’s all up to the dessert round, but first how did the dishes rank with the spoons?

Team Ninjago (Spring Rolls) – ChefDad (2), Mr. N (2), Kristy (3-1/2), and Miss A (1)

Team Miyagi (Chili Nachos) – ChefDad (4), Mr. N (3), Kristy (2), and Miss A (2)

It’s heating up in here for sure. Who’s going to take home the title? It’s anyone’s game. We’ll have to see what dessert has in store for our chefs. The winning Dessert Basket this year (by a long shot) – Oreos, Peppermint Schnapps, Puff Pastry and Cream Cheese.

Stay tuned…we’ll be back with the 2015 Chopped Challenge Champion!!!!

8:29 p.m. CST

Just over 11 hours later and Chopped Challenge 2015 is winding to an end. The girls’ team busted out the puff pastry and the pie weights to create some little puff cups. Puff pastry

puff cups

Then Miss A whipped up some fresh whipped cream. What could they be making? And what happened to all those desserts from earlier in the day? whipping cream

Well folks, we knew this would be a stiff competition, but we had no idea that both Team Ninjago and Team Miyagi would each bring two desserts to the table. Looks like both of these teams want the win.

Team Ninjago brought the Puff Pastry Twists Filled with an Oreo and Cream Cheese Mint Frosting, Dipped in German Chocolate and sprinkled with Sea Salt. And they made an Oreo Crusted Mint Infused Cheesecake! Whew! Dessert twist and cake

And Team Miyagi presented a Raspberry Tart with Mint Cream Filling, raspberry tart

along with a Semifreddo Puff Pastry Sundae. Semifreddo Sundae

Now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The crowning of the 2015 Chopped Challenge! And the winner is….

Team Miyagi

Team Miyagi!!!! Kristy remains reigning champ for another year! Sorry boys…better luck next year. losers

So what tipped the scales in the girls favor? It was Miss A’s Semifreddo. She had ice cream on her brain the moment the winning baskets were announced. Good thing she did too, or the results may have swung the other direction. semifreddo sundae

The breakdown was as follows:

Team Ninjago (Puff Twists): ChefDad (3), Mr. N (3), Kristy (2), Miss A (2)
Team Ninjago (Cheesecake): ChefDad (2), Mr. N (4), Kristy (1), Miss A (2)

Team Miyagi (Tart): ChefDad (2), Mr. N (2), Kristy (1), Miss A (2)
Team Miyagi (Semifreddo): ChefDad (4), Mr. N (4), Kristy (4), Miss A (4)

The Semifreddo even takes the coveted all 4-spoon rating! Now that’s a first for Chopped Challenge!

Congratulations to Team Miyagi. It was a hard fought battle and another marathon event. celebration

But perhaps we shouldn’t celebrate just yet….There’s still the clean-up (or should I say the 10th clean-up of the day!)!
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Thank you all for following along with us today! We had another great year filled with fun, laughter, some good old fashioned trash talking and each other. Thank you for being a part of our memories. Long live Chopped Challenge!

(And looks like the kids get to sleep in tomorrow – snow day! Too bad mom and dad still have to work. Booo!)

It’s Time to Vote….Chopped Challenge 2015

Sure we hardly have time to blog let alone cook these days, but we’re not about to miss our annual Chopped Challenge live blogging event! It seems it has become a sacred family tradition. As Mike and I were trying to figure out how to logistically pull it off this year, the kids became quite adamant that it still happen on Super Bowl Sunday (Sunday, February 1st). It appears the kids take this just as seriously as we do, and why not, it’s always a ton of fun.

Remember this mess from 2012:dirty dishes

Or this delicious winner from 2012 (Chiptole Grilled Lobster over Stir Fried Buckwheat Noodles):chopped main course

We kicked things up a notch in 2013 with homemade pasta versus lentil burgers. The homemade pasta won the prize, but the lentil burgers have been made many times since. Black Beluga Lentil Burgers with Muffaletta Olive Salad

beluga lentil and artichoke pasta

And last year, well the competition got stiff. Chopped Challenge Teams 2014Arghboozing

The kids favorite dish from last year – Toasted Apple and Bacon Tortellini. fried tortellini

So are you ready for this year’s cooking challenge? Below we’ll have three polls – one for appetizers, one for the main course, and one for dessert. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the format, we base this off of the Food Network’s “Chopped” series. The premise is simple, contestants must use the ingredients in the basket (no matter how crazy they seem) to create a dish. There are three rounds (appetizer, main course, and dessert). The winning dish of each round is selected based on taste, presentation and creativity.

Well, below you’ll find three basket options for each round. This year we’re pulling from the baskets that didn’t make the cut in the past three years. Some of the baskets are clearly more kind than others; though we won’t name names. We’re excited about them all and look forward to the challenge. So, please select one basket (hitting “vote” on each poll – total of three) for each of the three rounds. The winners will then be announced in our live cook-off event on Sunday, February 1st, as Mike and I will go head-to-head to see what we can cook-up (will Mike be able to knock me off the winner’s circle this year?). Mr. N and Miss A will again serve as sous chefs, though teams have yet to be picked.

So without further ado…vote early and often! Voting remains open until Friday, January 30th. And make sure to stay tuned for the live blogging event and subsequent recipes. We can’t wait to see what you drop in our baskets this year!

For the Appetizer Basket we selected the non-winning baskets from 2013.

The Main Course options were taken from the non-winning baskets from 2014.

And the Dessert Basket comes to us from our very first year’s non-winning baskets in 2012.

Thanks for voting and we’ll be back, live (all day) on Sunday, February 1st for Chopped Challenge 2015!!!!

Four Years Ago

Well, this week marks four years of blogging here at Eat, Play, Love. We certainly don’t post like we used to (can’t believe I ever had time for three times a week!), but we’re still here, cooking and posting as we have time. Can you believe how much these kids of grown in the last four years?!

Our first official cooking adventure back in 2011.

Our first official cooking adventure back in 2011.

Not to mention how much their palate has certainly grown too. It’s been an amazing ride! But as we mention every year, the best part of this whole adventure is the people we have met both online and in person over the past few years. You have all enriched our lives so much and for that we are forever grateful.

Now, let’s kick off this fifth year of blogging with a recipe and a little holiday recap. It’s hard to believe December has come and gone already. It was quite a whirlwind of travel – visiting good friends and family. The kids had field trips and class parties. Mike and I had lots of year-end work, shopping, holiday prep…I’m sure many of you can relate. We didn’t cook or bake nearly as much as usual this year with all of our travel, but we did manage a delicious Christmas Eve dinner.

Christmas Eve has been a special tradition for the four of us. We spend it together at home, making a large meal, opening a few presents, eating cookies and doing an annual Christmas light drive. It’s a cherished set of traditions. And speaking of traditions, a new one has taken root on this festive night for the past several years – the cooking of a Bartolini recipe. It all began with Chicago John’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara. We even went all out and made homemade pasta. It was perfection. Then the next year Chicago John posted this beauty and we knew once again a Bartolini meal would grace our holiday table. So, this year, the question wasn’t what to make for dinner, it was what Bartolini dish to make for dinner! The winner for this year (and it was certainly a winner!), roasted duck ravioli. Delizioso! Four spoons all around John – no question.

Unfortunately we don’t have any pictures of the ravioli to share, but here are a few of our holiday. yes!

chipper

hobbs

If you look very closely you can see two cats in the tree!

If you look very closely you can see two cats in the tree!

just what I wanted

We did, however, manage to take a photo of the one cooking adventure we squeaked out during the holidays. Mr. N chose the country of Denmark as our destination. We wanted to make a traditional Danish holiday treat and the Pebernodder was just the thing. It’s a spice cookie which reminded us a lot of one of our family recipes but with one major difference – the addition of white pepper. I’d never heard of pepper in cookies before, so we figured this one would be our new cookie for the year.
Pebernodder

The cookies were soft and chewy with a sweet initial taste that then ended with a zing. The pepper wasn’t over-powering at all, but it did give these little bites a bit of zing. While they didn’t quite surpass our favorite holiday cookies, they did ring in with three spoons all around which I would say is a good solid cookie.

Print the recipe: Pebernodder

As for the rest of our holidays…Well, we left the frigid temps to visit Nana and Papa in Florida, with a quick stop at Universal Studios along the way. The weather was perfect, the kids once again proved themselves fantastic little road warriors (it’s a 24 hour drive) and well, how can you go wrong ringing in the New Year on a beach with fireworks?
Hogwarts Express

Diagon Alley

Gringotts

Dusk

sunsets

starfish

waves

beach fun

You have no idea how much we wish we were still there! It sure beat the wind chills of 25F below we’re having here now. Burrr!!!!! That said, we are happy to be settling back into our routines and feel a bit more rested after the holiday rush. Well, most of us are happy about it…Hobbs was quite sad to lose his tree.
my tree!

Thank you all again for following along on our adventures for the past four years. It’s been a bigger part of our lives and much more of a learning experience than we ever anticipated. We hope this new year finds you all happy, healthy and making delicious memories. Until next time!