Harvesting the Last Days of Summer

This has been a beautiful week! For the first time in recent memory, our annual trip to an apple farm was done wearing shorts and t-shirts. And we’re not complaining! We’ll take this summer-like weather as long as we can get it. onions

So to keep up the guise of summer, we’ve been enjoying the end of summer’s harvest with our meals. Today’s recipe is reminiscent of our trip to Michigan in August. On the last afternoon of our vacation, we enjoyed a wonderful gourmet pizza at a local winery. We’ve since recreated it at home several times. While the prep time is a little lengthy, Mike and I think this Summer Harvest Pizza is worth the effort. balsamic caramelized onions

We start the meal prep early in the day by making a semolina pizza crust. We use my bread machine to simplify the process. The dough recipe makes enough for three large pizzas. We make one for Mike and I, one for the kids and then ten mini-pizzas for the kids to take in their school lunches. Later in the day, about an hour before dinner, we begin the remainder of the prep, starting with caramelized onions. semolina pizza dough

Next, we prepare the figs. We’ve used several different recipes off the web as guidelines. (Like this one or this one.) After cleaning and slicing the figs, we toss them into an oven-proof dish. We drizzle them with honey, balsamic and a bit of brown sugar. We then bake them for 20 minutes at 400F. oven roasted figs

Next up comes the candied bacon. This was not included on our pizza in Michigan, but after reading it over at Rufus’ blog, we knew it had a place on this dish. The recipe is so simple, we’ve made it several times (dangerously simple). candied bacon

Both the figs and the bacon cook up conveniently while the onions are doing their thing on the stove. Then there’s only one last thing to do before assembly. Slice the heirloom tomatoes. heirloom tomatoes

The onions usually take about 45-60 minutes. Once they are done, we roll out the dough and place it on a pizza tray lined with parchment or foil, and sprinkled with corn meal to prevent the pizza from sticking. Then we brush the pizza crust with olive oil and begin to pile on the ingredients. We like to start with the onions, followed by the tomatoes. harvest pizza

Next we add the figs, a few handfuls of arugula, the candied bacon bits and a sprinkle of goat cheese crumbles. You can also add a fresh squeeze of lemon juice at this point as well. We’ve done both with and without and either way was equally enjoyable. The pizza then bakes for 15-20 minutes at 400F. summer pizza

Once the crust is golden brown and the pizza is nice and hot, we remove it from the oven and sprinkle a bit more fresh arugula over the top. veggie pizza

Then we slice and serve. I like to add a bit of balsamic reduction over the top just prior to serving as well. Adds that extra bit of sweet tang to the dish. Mike and I both thoroughly enjoy this tribute to summer on a pizza. It’s packed with a variety of flavors and textures – a true delight to the taste buds. tomatoes and heirlooms

Mike and I both give it a solid 3 spoons. It’d be tough to get a homemade pizza to rank 4 spoons – we grew up on Chicago-style pizza after all. That said, it’s a good gourmet-style pizza that we’ll surely make again. The kids, however, weren’t into this one at all. Far too many visible vegetables for them. They opted for a more traditional sauce and cheese pizza one night and a pesto pizza another night. That’s fine by us – more slices for us! homemade pizza

I found a good batch of figs at the market recently, so this last time I roasted a triple batch. I’ve frozen them along with some slices of heirloom tomatoes in hopes that they’ll work over the winter. I would love to have this pizza in the middle of January. It may not be summer then, but a good bottle of wine, the fireplace and the taste of summer on a pizza…sounds like a nice winter evening to me.

Print this recipe: Summer Harvest Pizza

fig pizza

Now, I suppose we’ll start moving onto fall…somewhat reluctantly, although I admit I do love fall cuisine. I’m going to have Mr. N pick our next country to cook from this week. So we’ll be back in a week or two with his choice and a dish to go along with it. Have a great week everyone!

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

Country Magic

We just returned from our second summer at the Michigan country house. It was another magical stay with the kids. There’s no other way to describe it. Peaceful, serene, beautiful, fun and lazy are all words that come to mind. We cooked, played baseball in the fields, played a game of monopoly (and finished it!), read books cover-to-cover, roasted marshmallows and did jigsaw puzzles. We even found time for a fun park, the beach, wineries and picking fruit. I swear the hours are longer in the country.
country home

As we know all to well though, all good things must come to an end. School starts in a week and we’ll be back to our regular routines. It’s always bittersweet. We’ll miss our extended days with the kids, but there is something to be said for the routine of school. So while we wind down our long summer days, here’s a look at what was on our menu in the country.

After picking a bushel of fresh peaches, we went through the archives to find our favorite recipes. peach picking

First on the list was the Peach Rosemary Lemonade.
Rosemary Peach Lemonade
Print the recipe here: Rosemary Peach Lemonade

Then there was the very delicious (and highly recommended) Bourbon Steak Quesadillas with Peach Salsa. Best meal of the trip!
Bourbon Steak Quesadillas
Print the recipe here: Bourbon Steak Quesadillas

And there was no way the kids would let fresh peaches escape the Peach Bread Pudding.
bread pudding
Print the recipe here: Peach Bread Pudding

Oh and there was a crisp. This time it was peaches, blueberries and red currants.
cherry peach blueberry crisp

The one pictured above didn’t have a recipe as it was just thrown together, but here are a few other options with recipes:

The Peach Blueberry Crisp
Peach Blueberry Crisp
Print the recipe here: Peach-Blueberry Crisp

The Peach Cobbler
Georgia peach cobbler
Print the recipe here: Georgia Peach Cobbler

Finally here are a few more peach recipes we didn’t get around to this year, but we haven’t forgotten about them yet.

Peach Salsa
peach salsa and eggs
Print the recipe here: Peach Salsa

Peach Fig French Toast

Peaches and Figs French Toast

Print the recipe here: Peach & Fig French Toast

Peach and Ricotta Pancakes
Peach and Ricotta Pancakes
Print the recipe here: Peach and Ricotta Pancakes

Peach Teriyaki Buffalo Steaks
Peach Teriyaki Buffalo Steak
Print the recipe here: Peach Teriyaki Buffalo Steaks

South Dakota Peach Kuchen
Peach Kuchen
Print the recipe here: South Dakota Peach Kuchen

I’m hungry just thinking about these again. We hope you enjoyed the peachy round-up. Now, I’m off to go whip up one last peach recipe with the few peaches that made it home with us. Nothing like ending the weekend with memories of a vacation!

We’ll be back after school starts. Until then, here’s a little slide show of our country vacation 2014. Cheers!

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Miss A’s Favorite Bread

Miss A and I are visiting my mom and dad this beautiful fall Sunday. We’re cooking our usual weekly staples from their house quite simply because I missed them and needed out of the house. Even though I’m still rolling through my cooking, I have company and I don’t have to look at all the chores stacking up around my own house. There is just no time to get to them this week. Out of sight, out of mind.

So while Miss A and I are visiting, Mike is working on his portfolio for work. He’s up for tenure this year and it’s review time. And Mr. N is at rehearsal. He has another show next weekend, so today is the beginning of tech week, rehearsals for four hours a day until opening night. So aside from our prepared lunches and snacks, we won’t be cooking too much this week. It’s going to be one of those grab and go times. Fortunately, we did have the chance to cook quite a few new recipes for the blog last weekend and we’ll have some delicious Indian dishes on the way soon. First, we thought we’d share Miss A’s favorite bread recipe and a few pictures from our annual fall trip to Winona, Minnesota. white bread dough

As you may recall, Miss A wasn’t such a big fan of the kefir bread. She prefers a regular white or wheat bread taste to a sourdough bread taste. Now for those of you that have been following our blog for a while now, you also know that I am not a bread baker. Yeast and I tend to not get along so well, unlike Miss A and yeast-based breads. She has it down to a science. rising dough

So when Charles at Five Euro Food posted his recipe for No-knead bread in two hours, I knew I had to give this a try. It seemed fool-proof. The recipe truly couldn’t have been easier. I followed Charles’ instructions to a “t” and it didn’t disappoint. The bread rose beautifully as you can see. rising yeast bread

And then it baked just as well; although I left it in a smidge too long. No matter, it looked like real bread and I counted this as a true success. A breakthrough! white bread

Of course, the true test came when I sliced a piece. I still had a fear that it would have turned out too dense, like my typical bread baking results. Not this time though! It even looked like real bread; and Miss A’s 4 spoon rating was the icing on the cake. white bread slices

In fact, it got a 4 spoon rating from each one of us. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to have finally, and successfully, pulled off a yeast bread recipe. Miss A enjoyed many a lunch sandwich on the bread. It also went perfectly with wine and cheese. Thank you Charles!

For the recipe: Charles’ No-knead Bread

Now, here are a few pictures from our recent annual trip with Friend Sue and Richard to Winona. We ate fantastic food, tasted good wines, drove to historic sites and saw old friends. It was the perfect fall getaway, and a much needed respite. And even though the weather wasn’t 100% cooperative, it did lend for a beautiful rainbow that stretched over the entire town. Unfortunately, by the time we drove to a good overlook and I got my camera ready, it had faded to just one end of town. The full rainbow was a stunning sight. rainbow over Winona

While in Winona, we also had the chance to see the largest steamboat ever built. The American Queen was built in 1995 and is a replica of a classic Mississippi River steamboat from the 1800’s. The American Queen docked for a day at Levee Park while on its nine-day journey on the Mississippi River from St. Paul, Minnesota to Memphis, Tennessee. It was an impressive ship and one that invokes thoughts of Mark Twain and early life on the Mississippi. levee park
American Queen1
American Queen 2
American Queen 3
American Queen 4
American Queen 5
American Queen 6
American Queen 7
American Queen 8

And just so you know that we’re alive and well, despite our infrequent posts and comments, here are a few of the family shots from our weekend. family at American Queen
Miss A

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Happy fall everyone! Next time we’ll be back with vegetable dish that actually garnered a 4 spoon rating from one of the kids! Cheers.

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. ;)

Happy Endings

Well, is it just me or did this past summer just fly by? Every year they get faster and faster. Well, as you know we ended our summer with a little country getaway. We rented a farm-house in Michigan for a week with the kids and just spent some quality time with absolutely no distractions (except for a few bee stings – poor Mike!). farm house

Thankfully Mike is not allergic to bees and recovered just fine; albeit rather annoyed. Aside from those two little incidents, the trip was utterly blissful. The kids were happy the whole time (no meltdowns or plate turnings) and they were inseparable. From morning until night, they were attached at the hip, playing and laughing. campfire

We did lots of cooking, ate every meal outside, read books, made crafts and even got to pick our own peaches. peach orchard

I’m not joking when I say that Miss A ate at least five peaches while we were in the orchard. peach picking

Somehow we still ended up taking home one whole bucket of fresh Michigan peaches. So as you can imagine, our next few recipes will be down right peachy. peach wagons

The farm house was exactly what we needed. It was peaceful and felt like home the second we walked through the doors. country home

It wasn’t extravagant by any means, but it was homey, clean, private and surrounded by grape vines. grape vines

And it was only a short 30-minute drive to sunsets on the beach. beach sunset

As simple as it was, we all agreed that it was one of our best family vacations. We all felt happy, connected and most of all rested. sunflowers

There’s not a whole lot to report back other than we spent a lot of quiet mornings in our upstairs sitting room overlooking the countryside. Then we’d make our way down to the kitchen area where the kids and Mike would read and craft while I cooked something up. I don’t think we were ever dressed or out of the house before noon! quiet mornings

Our days were lazy and spontaneous and then we’d head for some quiet nights either on the beach…sunset beach time

sunset girl

or back at the farm. country sunset

One evening, we sat around the campfire. Mr. N and Miss A were roasting marshmallows and Mike and I were sipping wine. The discussion turned to what a great trip it had been and that we should definitely visit the farm again. Then Miss A, usually not one for serious conversations, sighed and said, “Yes. This was like a happy ending for summer.”

Indeed it was. It was then just a few days later that I was snapping the first day of school pictures. Mr. N school day

It’s always the first day of school pictures that reflect back to me how much they are growing up and changing. First day of school

While the end of summer is always bittersweet for the kids, it was especially so for us parents too. Miss A is now a kindergartener, which means a full day of school five days a week. In other words, our house is suddenly very, very quiet. Since this was the first day of “real” school for Miss A, we weren’t sure how she would handle the separation. She had cried a few days beforehand, but otherwise was staying her tough little self. As the bus approached, we said our goodbyes and gave out our hugs. I was using every ounce of self-control to keep those tears locked away behind my sunglasses. I was standing behind Miss A, when she looked at Mike slightly panicked and said, “Where’s mommy?”

Just then, Mr. N walked up alongside of his little sister, took her by the hand and happily said, “Come on, Miss A.” boarding the bus

She looked up at her big brother and smiled. They boarded the bus and didn’t look back until they were in their seats, smiling and waving. As the bus turned away, the dam burst and my tears were flowing. Fortunately, I’m in good company and several of us moms were able to cry, laugh and hug our way through the walk home.

Miss A was right – that vacation was definitely a happy ending, but I also think that this is a new happy beginning. It’s definitely a new stage of life for us. For the past nine years, Mike and I have juggled our schedules both working from home and our offices. We’ve managed through the chaos and the stress to be stay-at-home parents as much as possible. Mike would stay home some days, I would stay home others, we’d work nights and sometimes weekends, trading off work and at home time, while trying to find a balance for quality family time when we could all be together. It wasn’t easy. And it’s the strangest feeling to look up, nine years later and think that those days are behind us. happy endings

While I very much miss my little buddies, I can’t help but think about all the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead for all of us – and I’m excited. Even with only one week of this new life under our belts, I can already see that this next stage, might be just as fun as the last – particularly if this vacation was any indication. sunny side up

So since I’m feeling all happy and sunny, I figured we’d kick off our Michigan recipe series with some bright and sunny foods. This first recipe, is hardly a recipe at all. We obviously had a lot of peaches on-hand, so we used what we had in our little kitchen to whip up a fresh Peach Salsa. peach salsa

We used peaches, tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, honey, cherry balsamic vinegar and salt for seasoning. We first served our salsa as a side with tortilla chips. Miss A was not a big fan of the salsa due to the jalapeno. This was only a 2 spooner for her. Mike enjoyed the fresh peaches with his chips. It was a good blend of salty and sweet. salty and sweet

Mr. N and I enjoyed our peach salsa with the chips, but our favorite way to serve it was with a sunny side up egg on toast. peach salsa and eggs

Mike, Mr. N and I all gave the salsa 3 spoons. It was fast, fresh and was a simple balance of sweet and spicy. Print this recipe: Peach Salsa

Thank you all for your wonderful comments. We read them while we were away and always enjoy them. We read many of them to the kids and they enjoy following along as well. They know many of you by name, and will often ask which one of you provided the new recipe at our table (as many of your recipes are served at various meals). I promise I’ll get back to commenting soon, I just have a few projects that I’ve been sitting on for quite some time that I’m ready to move forward on; and of course, we’re still working out our new school time routines. Please know that I’m hovering in the background printing many of your recipes and that I’ll be popping in and out as I can as we try to find our new balance.

We’ll be back soon with a few bread recipes. Yes – I’ve actually made some bread! And the best part, it’s edible! Until then, here’s a flashback that happens to be another great use for peaches. We made this in Michigan too, and needless to say, Miss A devoured this one. :)Georgia peach cobbler