A Dessert Worth Sharing

And by sharing, we don’t just mean sharing the recipe here, but actually sharing the dessert with family and friends. It’s far too dangerous to keep too many of these lying about the house! At least it would have been for us. So what is the dessert that earned the coveted 4 spoon vote all around (400 spoons from each of the kids in fact)? It’s the Paczki!
paczki ingredients

A few weeks ago, Miss A announced that she was ready to start cooking around the world again. It had been a while what with the whole Chopped Challenge thing. I asked her if she had a country in mind for our next culinary adventure and she announced it would be Poland. Mike then instantly suggested that we make the Polish dough nuts, paczkis. butter and sugar

The timing worked out perfectly. Paczkis are traditionally eaten in Poland on Fat Thursday (the Thursday before Lent). It was a way for families to use up the lard, sugar and eggs which was forbidden by Catholic fasting during Lent. Here in the states, and especially Chicago, paczki are more commonly eaten on Fat Tuesday (the Tuesday before Lent). In fact, here in the Chicago area, Fat Tuesday is more commonly known as Paczki Day; and wouldn’t you know that’s in two days! creaming butter and sugar

We’ve never once had a paczki. Nor have we ever come close to attempting to make dough nuts – particularly given my history of unsuccessfully working with yeast. So needless to say, I was nervous. proofing yeast

The sous chefs were a big help preparing the dough. Mr. N managed the proofing of the yeast, while Miss A worked on the dough ingredients. It’s a simple combination of butter, sugar, milk, yeast, salt, flour, eggs and a bit of rum. eggs and rum

The dough came together very easily in the stand mixer. It was soft and springy. paczki dough

Most importantly, though, it rose. My dough actually rose! This was the first victory and it made me much more hopeful. first rise

After the first rise, the dough gets punched down and then set aside to rise again. You can guess who was more than willing to punch the dough. punch the dough

After the dough rose yet again (another little victory), we rolled it out to a 1/2-inch thickness. rolling dough

Next we cut the rounds using a 3-inch biscuit cutter.
paczki rounds

Miss A loved smashing the leftover scraps and rolling it out again. I believe we ended up with 27 paczki rounds.
smashing dough

We then set the rounds aside for the final dough rise of about 30 minutes; and guess what? They rose again! paczki dough rounds

Now for the fun part, or as I told Mr. N, “Time to make the dough nuts!” Mike was right, I had wanted to use that line all day! We heated a gallon of oil to 350F. The thermometer is important to maintain the temperature (especially if you’re like me and afraid of heating oil!). thermometer

The paczki rounds are placed top-side down in the hot oil and fried for two to three minutes, or until golden brown. We fried just a few at a time to make flipping easier.
frying dough nuts

Then we flipped them over to fry the other side. So far so good! golden brown paczki

After another minute or so on the remaining side, we carefully removed the paczki and placed them on paper towels to drain. While they drained, Mike filled half the batch with a lemon custard filling by cutting a small hole in the side of the dough nut and squeezing the filling through a ziplock bag. Although we chose a lemon custard filling, paczkis can be made with a variety of jellies, jams and custards. The most traditional of fillings is the plum jam or rose hip jam.filling the dough nuts

Finally we rolled the dough nuts in granulated sugar (both the filled and unfilled paczkis) before serving. sugar dough nuts

The paczkis are best served the day they are made, which definitely was not going to be a problem for us. Paczki Day

We stood in amazement looking at the paczkis. They actually turned out exactly as planned! Not only did they look great, they tasted just like a dough nut! We decided that these little Polish dough nuts now hold a special place in our recipe hall of fame (reserved for seemingly hard recipes that not only turn out well, but are enjoyed all around). We currently have two such dishes in this esteemed category – the paczkis and our baklawa. Both are sure to be made again and again. paczkis

Needless to say, the paczki were a hit. We each had to sample both a lemon custard filled paczki and a plain paczki. They were equally delicious – light and airy on the inside and deliciously sugary on the outside. As we were licking our fingers we decided we had to share the rest of the dough nuts or we would find ourselves in some deep trouble. So we set a few aside for the next morning and packaged the rest up for the kids to deliver to the neighbors. fat tuesday paczkis

The best compliment and testament to our adventure came from one of our neighbors. As he and Mike were outside shoveling today, he told Mike, “Hey, those weren’t dough nuts you brought over. Those were paczkis!” fat thursday paczkis

All the neighbors greatly enjoyed the paczki, as did we again this morning. I’m very thankful they are all gone now though. These little devils would seriously derail our healthy eating.

Print this recipe: Polish Paczki
Polish Paczkis

Now that we’ve had our very first paczki, we highly suggest enjoying one this Tuesday. Many bakeries and churches in our area will be selling them this week, but you can make them at home too! Have a great Fat Tuesday everyone. We’ll be back next week with another Polish recipe selected by Miss A. Mardi Gras-Paczki

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Mr. N in the Driver’s Seat

This is the last installment for Chopped Challenge 2014. I wish our dessert round was more inspired this year, after all Charles gave us a great basket to work with! Dessert Basket 2014

Sadly, however, after a long nine hours of cooking our creativity (and quite frankly motivation) was lacking. Don’t worry Charles, we’ve decided next year’s Chopped Challenge twist will be that the dessert round goes first. I know the kids won’t complain! So what to do with quinoa, chocolate, mango and Grand Marnier? Well, Mr. N suggested no bake cookies – they are easy, they are good and it should work. He also knows it’s the only way his mom will eat chocolate and figured it was a sure-fire way to win. conspiracy

So that’s what team Cleavers opted to do. We subbed the quinoa for oatmeal, the vanilla for Grand Marnier and added bits of dried, chopped mango in our regular recipe. The result was interesting. It certainly had the flavor of no bake cookies, but not quite the texture. Mr. N and Miss A both loved them and gave them a 4 spoon rating – the same as the regular recipe. Mike and I gave them 3 spoons each; although in retrospect they were more like 2 spoons. I didn’t eat them again. no bake cookies

I really didn’t even think it necessary to share the recipe, but the kids were insistent. They loved the quinoa cookies. They save well in the freezer and I saw Miss A sneak one out just yesterday. I guess this is one way to get her to eat some quinoa! Team Number Won was actually going to make no bake cookies too (a first in the Chopped competition to have both teams thinking along the same lines), but ultimately they opted for a no bake-inspired granola bar. The result didn’t quite go over as well, only garnering 2 spoons from all but Mike.

Long story short, stick with the regular recipe (unless you’re trying to get your kids to eat quinoa). The recipe provided here is our regular recipe passed down for several generations on my dad’s side of the family. It’s been a favorite for years and soothed many a broken hearts during the high school/teenage years. At the kids request we did include the quinoa option in the recipe for anyone interested.

Print this recipe: No Bake Cookies

Before we sign off for the week, I figured we’d share a few pics from President’s Day this week. Unfortunately Mike had to work, but the kids and I had a fabulous day at the Arboretum. Since it had warmed up into the 20′s (F), we thought we should try to take advantage of some of the snow and try our hand at cross-country skiing. The kids did great for their first time. skiing

We were out for an hour and half (although we only got about 1/4 mile). Mr. N had a rough start, but quickly got the hang of it and had a lot of fun. Miss A had a difficult time staying upright. She remained determined and optimistic for a good while, but then collapsed in a heap flailing her skiis about, becoming quite contorted yelling, “I’m useless! I’m just useless! Don’t talk to me!” It was quite the dramatic scene. cross country ski

That was the end of our skiing adventure. Fortunately she calmed down after we warmed up and ate some lunch. We then decided to take a drive through the park and photo the snowy scene. We were in the midst of a solid blizzard. snowstorm

Each of the kids had a camera as we drove around. We’d occasionally stop the car and hop out for photos. snowy day

The kids were all giggles and we were having a lovely time. We found this particularly pretty spot and paused to play in the snow a bit (the park was virtually empty but for us). snowy forest

The kids had fun rolling around and catching snowflakes on their tongues. happy day

Then it was time to get moving – only we couldn’t move. I should have known this would happen. My car (which I loathe beyond words) is not the best in snowy, icy or wet weather. I shifted forward, shifted backward, but we were not moving. Not one bit. I tried again – nothing. I was beginning to think we might have to call the visitor’s center and request assistance, but I wasn’t quite ready to do that yet. I sat for a moment to think. We didn’t have any kitty litter in the trunk, there were no other cars/people in the vicinity…Then I hopped out of the car, opened the backseat and told Mr. N to hop in the driver’s seat. His eyes widened and he looked at me like I was crazy (and perhaps I was). He was a bit hesitant, but I explained he just needed to sit there, push the pedal with his foot and hold the wheel straight while I pushed the car. This he found quite amusing. snow play

So with Mr. N at the wheel, I stood with the driver’s door open for leverage and pushed with all my might. I rocked the car back and forth, back and forth. Miss A in the meanwhile was squealing with delight. “Wheee! This is like a ride!”

Mr. N was trying to play it cool and be all serious, but you could see the devious little twinkle in his eye. He was relishing this moment. After about five minutes of rocking, pushing, pausing, pushing we started to move. I quickly popped Mr. N to the passenger seat and took control. At first we were going back and forth sideways (maybe six inches either way). I didn’t even realize it was possible for the car to move this way. Then finally we began to slowly roll forward. Success!

We decided it was probably time to go home, and so ended our snow day adventure. It’s one we won’t forget anytime soon. We all had a lot of fun and Mr. N was quite proud to have saved the day – modest too. “Thank you Mr. N! Without you, we still would have been stuck and had to call for help. I couldn’t have done that without you.”

“I didn’t do anything. I just sat there and pushed a pedal,” he said. But you could see the gleam in his eye and the slight uptick in the corner of his lips.

What a winter! At least we have some fun stories to share now. And even though we’re facing another week of temps below zero and in the teens, we’re getting closer to spring. We did have one day this week where we hit 45F, some snow melted and I got out for a run. Spring is on the way. I know it!long shadows

Our shadows are getting longer!!! So while we continue to wait out spring, we’re going to get back in the kitchen and start cooking recipes from around the world again. First up are Miss A’s picks for a few dishes from Poland. See you next week!

The Proof is in the Pudding

Hi all! It’s been a while, I know. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to put this post up, but something else comes up. And I do apologize for not visiting as many blogs as usual these past few weeks as well. I will pop in as I can, I promise. We are just down right consumed by life (in good ways) right now, and the few moments that we’re not, I’m relishing in the kids.

We’re still doing most of our planning and cooking on the weekends, and we have some plans to get back to more regular posting soon. In fact tomorrow, I’m going to be learning how to cook authentic Indian food. You can bet we’ll be bringing some of that goodness to the blog!

So before we return to our international cooking adventures, we wanted to share a treat we made while in Michigan this past summer. I realize that peaches are well past their prime in the Northern hemisphere, but it’s one worth saving until next summer (or whipping up if you have any peaches stocked in the freezer). It’s also a great use for the kefir bread we shared in our last post. Really though it’s just further proof that we’ve been darn busy and I haven’t photographed any new meals lately!

Miss A and I made this recipe one morning at the farmhouse. It was a delightful morning – just the two of us chatting and cooking away. We started with our fresh peaches (as we had an entire basket of them). basket of peaches

Miss A then cracked some eggs for me. cracking eggs

Then we whisked them with butter, vanilla, cinnamon, almond milk and sugar. egg batter

Next we sliced and cut a loaf of our kefir bread into cubes, kefir bread cubes

and Miss A added our fresh peaches. peaches and bread

Finally, we poured the egg batter over the bread and peaches. We refrigerated the mixture for 30 minutes before pouring it into the baking dish. bread pudding

The pudding baked for an hour at 325F. We then let it cool slightly while we prepared a basic vanilla pudding sauce. bread pudding

We served the peach bread pudding warm with a drizzle of the sauce. As this was our last hoorah for the summer, we ate this for breakfast. While not exactly a breakfast of champions, it was vacation and well, we were living it up a bit. peach bread pudding

Needless to say, this dessert was a big hit. Even Miss A who wasn’t so crazy about the kefir bread loved it. It was a 4 spoon dish for her – me too. peach pudding

Mike and Mr. N ranked it a smidge lower at 3 spoons, still there wasn’t a bit left in anyone’s bowl. michigan peaches

It was sweet, it was comforting and oh yes, it was filling (to say the least!). peaches in bread pudding

Print this recipe: Peach Bread Pudding

Fortunately, this is just a sometimes food for us though. I don’t think our health would hold up too well if we ate like this regularly, but it was a delicious way to end the summer. breakfast or dessert

Now, I’m off to tuck the kiddos into bed. I hear them belly laughing upstairs as Mike is telling them one of his bedtime stories. (He is incredible at making up stories that get the kids rolling on the floor! I love that about him. And if I haven’t said this before, Mr. N’s laugh – his authentic laugh – is my favorite sound in the world. Hands down.) Then I’m popping a few loaves of kefir bread into the oven before joining Mike for a late dinner. It’s one of our rare quiet nights and I’m going to soak up every minute of it.

We’ll be back next time with some new Indian recipes…perhaps in a week – or maybe two. ;)

All is Quiet on the Homefront

Well, at least it was for an afternoon. This past Sunday I was part of a group, through my yoga studio, that volunteered to pull weeds in a meditation garden. This wasn’t just any meditation garden either – it was a walking labyrinth. We performed the service in silence and were able to participate in a guided walking mediation following our work. While it was initially quite a daunting challenge for me to think about not speaking for hours on end, I have to admit, it was one of the most peaceful experiences I’ve ever enjoyed. the labyrinth

Now as you can imagine, our house is anything but quiet. But a few weeks ago, I found the perfect way to get the kids to slow down on a restless summer afternoon. We made soufflés. As you may recall, we had just made a delicious Eggs Benedict which required the use of egg yolks. Now since these weren’t just any egg yolks, they were farm fresh, we didn’t want the whites to go to waste; and it just so happens that soufflés fit in nicely with our French cooking adventure. egg whites

As for what kind of soufflé, well this was a no-brainer. We had a lot of fresh raspberries on hand of which we are all fanatics. Now I’m sure you’ve all seen a cartoon or TV show gag somewhere along the line that involves a deflating soufflé due to a loud noise. Well, we told the kids about this as we started to make the soufflés and they were fascinated. I’ve never seen them so quiet – truly.

We started by simply pureeing the raspberries in the blender along with some sugar and a touch of flour. raspberry puree

Next we whipped the egg whites into stiff peaks before adding a bit more sugar and a pinch of salt. stiff peaks

After the whites were whipped, we folded in the raspberry puree. souffle folding

We then filled our butter greased ramekins with the mixture. The recipe makes enough to fill 6 to 8 ramekins depending on the size. pouring souffle

Next we used the back of the spatula to create flat tops for the soufflés. souffle ramekin

And then…it was time for silence. The kids walked slowly through the house so as not to disturb the soufflé as they baked, and for a while they even sat just watching them rise through the oven door. Believe me this is a trick I’m going to remember to use again! The soufflés rose beautifully in the oven, but unfortunately deflated while I was attempting the pictures. deflated souffle

Next time I will have to be quicker! The kids were a bit disappointed that they didn’t stay fluffy, but that didn’t stop them from giving the raspberry soufflés 4 spoons. raspberry souffle ramekin

The soufflés were light and airy and delightfully sweet. Not too bad for our first attempt at this French dessert. Mike and I gave the dish 3 spoons. They were very good, but hard to beat my other favorite raspberry treat…raspberry souffle

Print this recipe: Raspberry Soufflé

Let’s just say I put the leftover raspberry puree to good use. (It helps to have a homemade pie crust on hand in the freezer!) raspberry pie

And a few extra ramekins. This certainly got 4 spoons all around! individual raspberry pie

Fake Trophies

Whew! What a week. We made it through the end of the school year insanity. Miss A has successfully finished preschool and next year will be a full-time kindergartener (I get teary just thinking about it.). And Mr. N is off to 4th grade; although rather reluctantly as he will very much miss his teacher from this year. I have a feeling she will be one of those that he will remember his whole life.

Then this weekend we had yet another performance. This time it was Miss A’s turn. star spangled

She completed another year of gymnastics (she’s been in for a few years now) and this year she got to perform in the program’s version of the “Olympics.” strong girl

She was so excited for her big day. Nana and Papa came, as did Grammie and Boom Boom (my dad as he’s referred to by the kids) and my aunt and cousin (who Miss A adores) came to see her big day. She was a regular ham for the audience as she waited her turn (apparently a flare for the dramatic runs in the family)…little ham

And then it was utter focus and determination. Running

She even made it up to the ceiling on her rope climb which ceases to amaze me. Rope climber

It was such a fun afternoon and Miss A was so happy. Although she was quite concerned that her trophy was “fake.” I think she was expecting a real gold medal. The plastic variety was rather a disappointment. Ha! trophy winner

And there’s no rest for the weary. This week we have summer activities starting and then we’re preparing for a bit of fun. Why is it that fun always requires so much preparation? Ah well, that’s why we have tasty desserts to get us through and make up for “fake” trophies. So this week we bring you a few French dessert treats – Sables (butter cookies) and Mousse au Citron (lemon mousse). We’ll leave the French chocolate delicacies to the masters – and those that like chocolate. ;) lemon curd

We borrowed our recipes from Joy of Baking and Saveur and didn’t really deviate. The only real difference was in the shape of our sables. From what we read, and if you are an authority on the matter feel free to tell us otherwise, traditional sables have a fluted edge and are circular. Ours, however, are not fluted, nor are they circular. lemon mousse making

Both recipes are very easy to follow. The biggest thing to remember is to have enough time set aside to chill your lemon curd. We made our cookies while the curd was in the fridge. sifting flour

Ah yes, and the cookie dough must have time to chill as well. Really that is the only time consuming aspect of these two desserts. lemon curd and egg whites

How do you like our shapes? You may recall the dragon fly from our adventure with Mongolian cookies. cookie shapes

We served ours together and the butter cookies went nicely with the tangy lemon mousse. They can also easily be served separately. The kids enjoyed eating the cookies throughout the week. And look who tried to sneak into the photo shoot! Another ham for the camera? Or just after some of that creamy decadence!mousse and cookies

As for how they ranked? Well, the sables were right on the mark. They are exactly as you imagine butter cookies. The kids enjoyed them more than Mike and I though. We prefer a chewier and softer cookie. Mr. N and Miss A ranked them 3 spoons and 9 spoons, respectively. Mike gave them a 3 spoon vote because he thought they were perfectly executed. I gave them 2-1/2 because while good, they just aren’t my kind of cookie. Sables

The mousse, which shouldn’t be a surprise given our obsession with lemon bars, went over much better across the board. The mousse is wonderfully tart and full of fresh lemon flavor. It is, however, a heart attack in a cup, so we didn’t eat very much. Just enough to know we loved it! Mike ranked it at 3-1/2 spoons, Mr. N and I gave it the full 4 spoon vote and Miss A, returning to our normal scale gave it 3 spoons. She liked the cookies better – and at least these weren’t fake! mousse au citron

Now don’t worry, these desserts don’t end our French cuisine adventure. We have a few more recipes in store, but we may bounce around a bit first. Until then, should you want the recipes here you are: Mousse au Citron and Sables. We’ll be back next week with a simple, but delicious treat. Have a great week everyone! Lemon Mouse and butter cookies

It’s Gunna be a Bright Bright Sun Shiny Day

Somewhere in the world it will be bright and sunny. I don’t think that will be in our neck of the woods though. In fact the sun seems to be in hiding this month making for quite the dreary March. So we thought for our flashback this week, we’d bring you a little plate of sunshine. You know when life hands you lemons…well, we make lemon tarts! These particular lemon tarts were made in the summer of 2011 when we were cooking recipes from Ontario, Canada, and are easily another one of our favorites. For those of you that haven’t seen this one before, we hope you enjoy! Next week we will post a little bit about what we’ve been up to in our absence, and then we’ll be back, rested, and ready to go! “See” you all soon. Continue reading