Sweet and Saucy

Can you believe the kids are on their 5th week of school already! Mr. N is now in 5th grade – his last year before middle school – and Miss A is now in 1st grade. It’s their last time at the same school for the rest of their schooling years. So bittersweet. Time is certainly flying.

Miss A's first day of 1st grade.

Miss A’s first day of 1st grade.

Fortunately for us, we have a bit of a slow down (relatively speaking) coming our way. Mr. N’s plays are wrapped up, summer activities have come to an end and for the first time since early May, we have nothing scheduled on our weekends from now until Thanksgiving. That’s not to say we won’t keep busy, but it certainly gives us more flexibility. I hardly know what to do with myself! For starters…I’m getting a post up here!

Mr. N's first day of 5th grade.

Mr. N’s first day of 5th grade.

Last weekend was our annual neighborhood block party. Mike has been smoking something or other for the last few years, and this year was no exception. This time around he chose a pork shoulder – actually two pork shoulders. We made a large batch of sliders and nachos. Both were equally delicious and not a single bite was leftover. While I didn’t have time to blog either dish in their entirety, I did grab a few pictures of the homemade BBQ sauce we made for the sliders. jalapeno and shallot

I wanted to use a recipe that didn’t involve ketchup as a base. I also wanted to make use of some flavors from our home state of Illinois this time of year. I had some beautiful red jalapenos from one of my favorite places in Illinois and wanted to pair them with some fruit. We chose raspberries as they are plentiful this time of year and one of our favorite things to pick in August and September. raspberries

The recipe was simple. We sautéed the jalapeno with some shallots (also locally grown). Next we added a little garlic and some adobo sauce and brought it up to a simmer. The raspberries were then added and cooked for just a few minutes before adding some apple cider vinegar, honey, sugar and salt. apple cider vinegar

After a good mixing of the ingredients we let the sauce simmer until it reduced by about half. I wasn’t happy with the thickness of the sauce at this point, so I added a little cornstarch. Much better.raspberry sauce

I let the sauce cool for a bit and then tossed it in the blender. In the meantime, Mike wrapped up the pork and we started to assemble the sliders. pork shoulder

I was really satisfied with the sauce. It was sweet, tangy and brought just the slightest amount of heat. pork sliders

The sliders were a hit, as was the sauce. For Mike and I the sauce was 3-1/2 and 4 spoons, respectively. Mr. N gave it 3 spoons; although he preferred his slider without any sauce (the flavor from the smoker was incredible on its own!). Miss A, unfortunately, wouldn’t even try the sauce. Once she saw the jalapenos, she was out. Unlike her brother, Miss A is becoming a bit more discerning in her tastes and a bit more stubborn with what she’s willing to try. Still, I suspect she tries more different foods than most. raspberry jalapeno bbq sauce

Fortunately for the rest of us, we made a large batch of sauce and were able to freeze a few portions for later this year. I’d like to try it salmon and grilled chicken. We also had a half of pork shoulder leftover that will be a nice treat this winter. I love the taste of summer in the depths of the cold, gray days, but we won’t talk about those just yet. The next time I get around to blogging, I have a great end of summer harvest pizza to share. We’ll keep the summer theme going for just a bit longer here anyway.

Print this recipe: Raspberry Jalapeno BBQ Sauce

Until then, we’ll be running the kids around – gymnastics, swimming and acting. I’ll be turning another year older (eek!) and we’ll be keeping busy in our newly found free time with another thing we brought home from the farmy…Hobbs

Hobbs is the newest addition to the family and a very welcome one. Chipper (our almost two-year old kitty) was very ready to have a friend again, and he’s welcomed the little one right into the fold. And Miss A is quite the little animal charmer. She spends much of her day playing with him and carrying him around. Never a dull moment – and frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way! Enjoy your day everyone! animal charmer

Staying Warm and Toasty

As many of you know, the Midwest has been experiencing a very cold and snowy winter. As of today we’ve had 20 days with below O degree (F) temperatures. Six more days and we’ll beat a record from sometime in the 1800’s. Frankly, that’s a record I’m not interested in beating. I don’t mind the snow, but honestly, it’s hard to enjoy it when it’s minus nine outside. Fortunately, we have managed to get our fair share of sledding in this winter which always makes us happy.

So let’s talk about something warm and toasty. Even if it’s summer in your neck of the woods, this dish would make a fun appetizer. It’s our Toasted Bacon and Apple Tortellini from Super Sunday’s Chopped Challenge. I’m going to get right down to business, as I hope to post all the winning recipes from the challenge in a timely manner.Then we can get back to cooking around the world. Thanks again to everyone that followed along that day. We had a lot of fun and have finally recovered (we didn’t want to be in the kitchen for a few days after that marathon!). So now on to the winning appetizer.

This basket came to us from our very own little sous chefs, Mr. N and Miss A. They very much thank you for their votes. They were quite excited! Mike and I on the other hand were a bit puzzled what to do with tortellini for an appetizer, but the kids had some fabulous ideas. Miss A instantly had a pasta salad in mind. Mr. N knew we had to stuff the tortellini with bacon. So that’s how we began. Appetizer Basket Ingredients 2014

For our homemade tortellini we referred to Chicago John’s tutorial on using won ton wrappers for the dough. (Glad I remembered that one!) stuffing tortellini

For the filling we added ricotta, basil, apple, bacon, an egg, Romano and salt and pepper to the food processor. We filled each won ton before carefully shaping them into tortellini. making tortellini

Mr. N really enjoyed making the tortellini. Even Miss A asked if she could make a few, which concerned Mr. N for a moment as he was suspicious of sabotage from the other team. Ultimately he let her try her hand at pasta making as well. won ton tortellini

Now came the fun part. I reminded Mr. N of the Toasted Ravioli we made a long, long time ago to represent Missouri and St. Louis. I suggested we deep fry our little tortellini to make them feel more appetizer-like. Well, one mention of the words “deep fry” and he was in complete agreement. So after cooking the tortellini we dredged them in flour, egg and panko before deep frying them to a crisp, golden brown. toasted tortellini

The only thing left was to come up with a sauce. Since we used a filling with apple and bacon, we thought a sweeter cream sauce was in order. We combined mascarpone, cashew cream and white wine in a small sauce pot before heating it over a low flame until it was blended, nice and creamy. You could easily use heavy whipping cream in place of the cashew cream, but if you’re so inspired, it was delicious. There are an abundance of cashew cream recipes out there, but we used a simple blend of raw, unsalted cashews (soaked in water), lemon juice, vegetable stock and a little bit of almond milk. Just toss it into a food processor and run until smooth and creamy. mascarpone and cashew cream sauce

So there you have it, team Cleaver’s Toasted Bacon & Apple Tortellini. It was 4 spoons for both Mr. N and Miss A, and 3 spoons from the grown-ups. While these were quite tasty, I’m not sure we’ll make them again. They are rather involved and frankly I prefer my tortellini as a main course with a nice light creamy mushroom sauce (fortunately we have a bunch saved in the freezer that didn’t make it to the frying stage). Not to mention if we’re going to deep fry, there are quite a number of foods I’d rather splurge on before these; but a winner is a winner. It was definitely a lot of fun to make and great to have both kids so active in the kitchen this year. This has become quite the “sporting event” around here this time of year!

Print this recipe: Toasted Apple and Bacon Tortellini

Now before I sign-off, I’ll give you a brief run down on the competition’s dish. After all it was completely the brainchild of our little Miss A (who recently got all dolled up for the annual daddy daughter dance). daddy daughter dance

The salad started with a bed of Romain lettuce which was topped with the cooked four-cheese tortellini, apple slices, pear slices, bacon crumbles, fresh basil and peanuts. The salad was dressed with an Asian-inspired dressing of sesame oil and ume plum vinegar. The sauce and peanuts weren’t the biggest hit, so we recommend a different choice of nut – walnut or pecan perhaps – and going with either less sesame oil, or another more subtle oil. The salad was served cold and was pretty good (but take our recommendations for adjustments into account).Tortellini Salad

Have a great week everyone! We’ll be back soon with our winning main course recipe. In the meantime, aren’t they just too cute?! If someone figures out how to stop time and keep these little ones from growing up so fast – please let me know. ;) dance night

Live Blogging Event – Chopped Challenge III – 2014

The wait is over! The big day is finally here! The smack talk has been ramping up for days and the teams are ready to go. It’s Chopped Challenge 2014.

First, we’ll introduce this year’s line up:

For The Cleaver’s (points to those who get the play on words) its Kristy and Mr. N; and for Team Number Won it’s Mike and Miss A. Chopped Challenge Teams 2014

Which team will reign supreme? And which team will be Chopped? Let’s get cooking to find out!

We’ll start the day with our Appetizer Basket. Teams will have to use the ingredients from this year’s winning basket and with 35% of the votes comes to us from Mr. N and Miss A, and those ingredients are:
Appetizer Basket Ingredients 2014

Now since this is a live blogging event, make sure to check back throughout the day. We’ll post photos and updates throughout the day for each course as well as the results. This year we’re also going to try to keep up with a photo stream on our Instagram account (eatplayloveblog) which will also post to our Twitter feed @eatplayloveblog. Getting a bit more high tech this year! Once again thanks for your participation and for following along.

Here’s to a great day of cooking and eating! Let’s get it on!

Well, Team Number Won is off to an early lead after commandeering the kitchen. sesame oil

They’ve got some kind of sesame oil and ume plum vinegar mixture going on in there. ume plum vinegar

The Cleaver’s have their bacon going, bacon bacon bacon

and some other mascarpone concoction, mascarpone

but is the pressure already driving Kristy to the brink??? boozing

Thankfully Mr. N is staying focused for The Cleavers.
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It looks like they’re hand-stuffing Won-Ton wrappers to make their own tortellini–impressive.
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Well, folks, the appetizer round is complete. Team Number Won created a tortellini salad featuring apples, pears, bacon and an Asian-inspired dressing; and the Cleavers came up with a homemade tortellini (using won ton wrappers) which were deep fried and served with a mascarpone cream sauce. appetizer contenders

The salad, which was entirely Miss A’s idea, was a tasty combination. Yet while all the pieces worked in concept, the execution was a bit lacking (which Miss A blames on her teammate – is there dissension in the ranks?). The sesame oil in the dressing was a little too over-powering making the dish a bit too salty. Still the bites with apple, tortellini and bacon were quite good and might do better with a more Italian inspired vinaigrette. This dish came in with 2 spoons from Kristy and Mike, 1-1/2 spoons from Mr. N and 0 spoons from the chef that created the dish! Tortellini Salad

That means – the winner for this round is THE CLEAVERS! The tortellini was made using won ton wrappers (thanks to a post from Chicago John Kristy remembered from last spring) and stuffed with a mixture of ricotta, bacon, basil and apples. After the tortellini were cooked, they were dredged in flour, egg and panko before being deep fried to perfection. (Recipe to come in following weeks.) The crispy tortellini were served alongside a mascarpone cream sauce for dipping. Mr. N and Miss A came in with 4 spoons each while Mike and Kristy gave the dish a 3 spoon ranking. It’s hard to beat a deep fried appetizer folks, especially with two kids at the judging table! fried tortellini

Now it’s time to clean the kitchen from round one. We’ll be back shortly to post the winning main course basket! Stay tuned…

The first round of cleaning is done and we’re on to the main course! This year’s winning basket with 32% of the vote comes to us from Vanyadhanya: Main Course Basket 2014

And the cooking is already underway with a garam masala sachet in the works for Team Number Won. garam masala

The Cleavers are again late to the kitchen, we hope they’re not getting too cocky – it’s still anyone’s game! Although they do seem to have soaked some cashews…another cream perhaps? Cashews
It took us a little while to track down Mr. N and Miss A for Round 2. They kinda vanished for the cleaning phase of the contest. Fortunately we had a good idea where to look.
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Team Number Won is mixing up some potatoes, cilantro and flour. Gnocchi, perhaps? Not quite.
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Mike and Kristy seem to be sharing the counter space nicely. Wonder how long that will last?
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Everyone is on a roll. Lots of cooking is underway. All four burners are in use, the oven, a food processor and a blender. Too bad this isn’t the real chopped kitchen – these teams have to wash dishes in between use! So what is everyone up to? Let’s check back in…Team Number One is rolling something into balls. Looks like it’s potatoes flour and cilantro. Rolling dumplings

Once the balls were rolled, they were dropped into boiling water? Looks like they’re going for some sort of dumpling. The Cleavers are mixing their potatoes, carrots and onions with a cashew cream. Wonder what that’s going to be…mixing cashew cream

A casserole??? pot pies

Nope – a pot pie! Oh, the pressure is on now Team Number One! veggie pot pie

Team Number Won needed a victory in round two of the challenge, and they brought out deep fried potato dumplings in a cashew cream sauce with whole Garam Masala spice infusion and the secret ingredient. They were up against a vegan pot pie with potatoes, carrots, cashews and pumpkin inside, and quite a bit of heat from their own liberal use of the garam masala.IMG_0591

Mr. N was ready to call this one for Team Number Won even before tasting (he did know what the secret ingredient was), but once we actually sat down, it was clear this was going to be a tough call. The pot pie was boldly flavored, with plenty of kick and the pumpkin and creamy cashew mix gave it a great texture.

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Mike had just a bit of nervousness as we tasted his team’s dish. He had spent most of the past 24 hours chirping about “the sweet, sweet taste of victory,” which came wrapped up in a small black grocery bag from the little Indian grocery store nearby. After the pot pie, he needed to deliver. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a dish that was going to score big on presentation.
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But oh, that secret ingredient–Paneer! Even Kristy had to acknowledge that the thick chunks of paneer in the sauce put it over the top. The Pot Pie got 4 spoons from Mike and Miss A, 3 spoons from Kristy and Mr. N. The dumplings got 4 spoons from Mike, Kristy and Miss A and 3 spoons from Mr. N, though Miss A only liked the paneer in the sauce and didn’t give the dumpling much of a chance.
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We head to the dessert round all tied up at a round apiece, though I have a feeling the pot pie may be one of those things that we eat a lot of, even though it didn’t win. We’d better, Kristy made enough to freeze three big casserole dishes full. But before we get to dessert, it’s cleanup time. You’d never know we cleaned up about halfway through this round.
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And as the evening draws to a close and all the natural light has disappeared, it’s time for the final round of Chopped Challenge 2014. So with a title riding on this round, what basket do we have in store for Team Number Won and the Cleaver’s? Well, with 39% of the vote, it was Charles’ basket from Five Euro Food! Dessert Basket 2014

The teams are in the kitchen – except for Miss A. She is now providing entertainment for the wary chefs who are going on nine hours of cooking, eating and cleaning! Dancing A
Miss A entertains
you don't know you're beautiful

It’s time for a dessert basket update. What are our super chefs up to now? Team Number Won appears to be slicing mango, slicing mango

and rolling out something under some parchment paper. rolling rolling rolling

As for the Cleaver’s they seem to be conspiring over near the stove. conspiracy

As we go in for a closer look, it appears to be something rather familiar. no bake cookies

But wait? What about the mangoes? dried mangoes

The Cleaver’s have some dried mangoes chopped up, for what remains unclear; and Team Number Won has some simmering on the stove. This could be an interesting round! mango syrup

Alright fans and friends, the results are in for the third and final round. Let’s see what our teams came up with for dessert this year. Desserts 2014

The Cleaver’s created a No Bake Cookie Pop. It’s a cookie with quinoa, chocolate and peanut butter and it looks like they’ve sprinkled it with dried mangoes . Team Number Won opted for a similar concoction, but came up with granola bars and a mango syrup. So who was the winner of the dessert round (and ultimately this year’s title)? No Bake Cookie Cake Pops

The Cleaver’s No Bake Cookie Cake Pops took the lead with 3 spoons each from Kristy and Mike and 4 spoons for each of the kids. Some might call this the easy way out, going with a tried and true recipe and not a chocolate quinoa cake or quinoa chocolate chip cookie, but there are exactly two things that bring about a gag reflex in Kristy – beets and chocolate. Oddly enough, this is the only recipe with chocolate that Kristy enjoys. And frankly it remains the one and only! granola bars

Knowing Kristy’s abnormal distaste for chocolate, Team Number Won tried to craft a dessert similar to the no bake cookie in hopes of winning over the chocolate hater. Unfortunately their choice of dark chocolate didn’t do the trick. The Quinoa Choco-oat Bars came in with 3 spoons from Mike and 2 spoons from the rest of the judges.

And there you have it, folks, the 2014 Chopped Challenge Champion is The Cleaver’s! Winners 2014

Despite Kristy’s three-peat at the annual event (and her victory in this year’s Super Bowl pool), there are no hard feelings at Eat, Play, Love. love

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Or are there?! brother sister fun
Argh

Don’t worry, it’s still giggles and laughter all around. It was a game well played by all. Thank you to everyone that participated by providing our basket ingredients, voting and of course following along. It’s a marathon of a day – 11 hours for 2014 – but one of our favorites each year. It’s a tradition we hope will last many more years to come.

Now it’s time to tuck the sous chefs into bed, kick up our feet and enjoy a glass of celebratory Champagne. Thank you all! We’ll be back in the next few weeks with recipes for our winning dishes. Cheers!

Oh – and yes – the cleaning is all done now too. :)
back to normal

A Devil of a Good Time

Hi everyone! As we mentioned in our last post we were preparing for some fun. Well, this week we are off to our neighbor to the North to meet some new friends and enjoy some family time. Yep, it’s another road trip; although not quite as epic as the one a few years ago that took us to many of the same places. little devils

So while we are away, you’ll forgive us for not checking in on many of your wonderful blogs. We’re going to unplug for a short time and recharge. We’ll be back next week with another French recipe and hopefully some great vacation stories to share. Lobster Devils

Until then, we thought we’d share this little non-recipe of a recipe with you. It was a HUGE hit in our house and it just happens to involve lobster which is reminiscent of that trip a few years back. Just search “lobster” on our site and you’ll see what we mean. deviled eggs

We took a basic deviled egg recipe – hard-boiled eggs, add the yolks to a bowl, and mix them with Dijon and mayo. This time we then added a bit of dill, some Champagne vinegar, diced shallots, and of course some chopped up lobster. (We had claws on-hand after a tasty special at Costco.) The measurements on today’s recipes are approximates. You can easily adapt this to your own taste preferences. lobster deviled eggs

Once the mixture was added back into the egg whites, we topped them with a pinch of truffle salt, some chives and a sprinkling of paprika (regular, not smoked, as we didn’t want to diminish the taste of the lobster). Now you can see why these were such a hit. Lobster Deviled Eggs with Truffle Salt

Mike and I both gave them 4 spoons. Hands-down. No questions. Miss A gave them 100 spoons. I have never seen her eat so much of a non-dessert food in my life. I’m not kidding. She put these little devils (pun intended) away! But Mr. N, he insists on saying they were 3-1/2 spoons….despite also devouring them and fighting with his sister over the last one. Hmmm. I’ve determined his vote is due to either not wanting to appear as a conformist, or that it wasn’t dessert and therefore doesn’t deserve a 4 spoon vote. IMG_7151

What I’m trying to say, is that you may as well consider this one of the rare 4-spoon all-a-rounders. Now do you think I should add it to our index page for four spoon dishes. Hmm…

I’ll ponder that while we’re away. Enjoy your week everyone! Print this recipe: Lobster Deviled Eggs

Difficult Choices – The Appetizer Basket

Choices. We face them every day. Some are small choices like what to wear today (although that’s never a simple choice for Miss A), some are a bit more monumental involving career, love, children, etc. One thing is certain, we make a multitude of choices each day.

A few weeks ago, you all were faced with a choice for the appetizer basket of our Chopped Challenge. Taking 39% of the vote was the Lobster, Chipotle, Fajita and Chocolate basket nominated by Eva at Kitcheninspirations. Appetizer Basket Continue reading

Avalanche

My goodness! It’s already been almost two months since our trip to Banff. Time seems to be flying lately – between my work, Mike’s work, PTA, the kids’ schedules, the holidays, travel and did I mention work – I’m exhausted! So we’ve been a little neglectful in our cooking and posting (certainly not our eating though!). But not to fear – we will keep on with our international and state night cooking adventures (even if just a bit more infrequently than we used to). We enjoy cooking, learning, eating and of course all of you too much to let it fall to the wayside!

So long story short, the avalanche that has consumed our spare time is why we’re delinquent in posting our favorite Alberta recipe and visiting many of your wonderful sites. Fortunately there were no avalanches on our Banff vacation. Just good food, great views and a spectacular time. Continue reading