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!

A Busy Kitchen

While we don’t post nearly as often as we used to, our kitchens by no means have slowed down. We’ve been making new and old recipes pretty regularly now. Sometimes the kids are on-hand to help, but most of the time they have other things keeping them busy. homework

While I’m usually at the sink, stove or counter, the kids are doing their homework, coloring, or just talking with me about their day. When Mike is home, he’ll be in the kitchen with me, helping me chop vegetables or putting dishes away. We have one cat, Chipper, that likes to sit at the stool on the other side of the counter or at the kitchen window so that he can supervise everyone, especially his little brother Hobbs. He much prefers to observe him from above. chipper

As for Hobbs, he’s either running through the kitchen chasing toys, nipping at my toes and whining to be picked up, or curled up in a little ball on the rug in the center of my work area. I’m fairly certain he’s going to cause me to have accident one of these days. However, more often than not, he’s climbing things he’s not supposed to and having to repeatedly be set back on the floor. He is awful cute though. Hobbs

We haven’t made too many international dishes lately; although we do have plans for a new recipe next weekend. I have, however, been teaching Mr. N some kitchen basics. He’s old enough now to learn how to operate the stove, oven and microwave. I’ve even had him make a few meals for he and Miss A all by himself. I just walk him through step-by-step. So far we’ve tackled pasta, shrimp, roasted chickpeas and homemade pizza. We, of course, have had to start with his favorite foods! LEGOS

It’s been fun to teach him and spend this time with him. It gives us a few minutes in his busy day that are just ours. I think he enjoys it too. At first he wasn’t too thrilled to have to learn these things, but once I explained to him that someday he might want to cook a special meal for a special girl, he was much more on board. He’s growing up so much! Fortunately for me, those days are still a ways off (whew!), and the only girl he’s cooking for right now is his little sister. And I have to say, she was very impressed that Mr. N made her dinner. She adores him and loves anything he does for her, unless of course he’s made her mad that day, in which case he’s best just steering clear of her six-year old wrath. sibling rivalry

So, the kitchen, it’s still the center of our ever-changing universe. And until Miss A and I get that next international recipe rolling, I thought I’d share with you a dish that Mike and I ate last week. It’s definitely a warm, comforting fall dish loaded with fresh and inviting flavors. It’s an Acorn Squash stuffed with Lemon & Ginger Risotto. Stuffed Acorn Squash

You can find the recipe here: Lemon Ginger Risotto with Acorn Squash

I roasted the acorn squash while I prepared the risotto. Once both dishes were done, I scooped the risotto into the squash for serving. squash and risotto

The sharp, fresh taste of the lemon and ginger were a great complement for the nutty flavor of the squash. Mike and I both gave the dish 3 spoons. lemon ginger risotto with acorn squash

We topped the risotto with toasted walnuts. We didn’t use any Parmesan or cream as we were trying to keep it healthy, but either would be a nice addition as well. Fortunately we made enough risotto to stuff two more squash later in the week. Lemon & Ginger Risotto

The leftover risotto heated well, but this time we tweaked the recipe a bit and added some sauteed spinach to the risotto as well as some mild Italian sausage. We enjoyed this version as much as the first. The spinach added a little lemony bitterness to the dish that to me just completed it perfectly. acorn squash

The kids, as many of you know, eat many things, and often many exotic or unusual things. Squash, however, is not one of them. Try as I might, they do not like the sweetness or the texture of the vegetable. In all fairness, I didn’t either until I was in my 20’s, so there’s still hope. Until then, there’s more for Mike and I to enjoy. Acorn Squash Stuffed with Lemon & Ginger Risotto

We’ll be back in a bit with Miss A’s international dish. It’s a yeast-based recipe, so goodness knows how we’ll fare. Fortunately, Miss A is better at cooking with yeast than I am, so our odds are better with her in the kitchen. Until then, enjoy your changing seasons and have a great Halloween! More soon. Cheers!

Miss A’s Green Thumb

I do not have a green thumb. Plants under my care do not live long. It is a proven fact. Still, each year I try to grow herbs and flowers and make our backyard somewhat less of a weed garden. Two years ago we tried to grow herbs from seeds and that little experiment ended up all over our living room carpeting. Last year we bought grown herbs and planted them along the house. Our results were mixed. The sage, rosemary and thyme did very well, but the basil died within a few weeks. basil leaves

This year, we tried again. We’ve also added sun flowers, baby tomatoes and impatiens to the mix. The tomatoes were Miss A’s request. I warned her that I’m not very good at gardening, but she insisted and said not to worry, she’ll take care of them. We’re six weeks in and I’m proud to report that the herbs are growing well. Even the basil, while not thriving, is better than last year. We have three sun flowers (we planted many more than three seeds mind you) are coming up and will hopefully survive. The impatiens are thriving and Miss A’s baby tomatoes are producing. I can’t report on how they taste, because so far, she has eaten them all. She said they are perfect. dry ingredients

So today’s recipe brings a bit of our “thriving” garden into the mix and features some decidedly summer flavors. After a recent visit to our favorite farm, I learned how to make a beautiful oat quiche crust from scratch. The kids loved it (especially Mr. N) and, as you may remember, I love any kind of non-yeast dough I can get my hands on. The fabulous thing about a quiche is that it can be suited to a variety of different flavors. Have leftover veggies in the fridge? Toss them in! Fancy cheese, regular cheese…no matter, it’s your canvas. So with the oat crust under our belts and our growing garden as inspiration, we created the Tomato Mozzarella Quiche. wet and dry ingredients

We began with our crust. It’s a simple 1:1 ratio of oats to flour and a 1:1 ratio of olive oil and water. We used 1 cup each of flour and oats and 1/4 cup each oil and water. I also chopped up some fresh basil and oregano and tossed it into the dough for extra flavor. The measurements are rough. A lot of it is based on feel. If it’s too dry, add more oil and water. If it’s too sticky, some more flour. quiche dough ball

Once the dough is ready, it’s pressed into a pie dish – over the bottom and up the sides. oat flour quiche dough

Next it was time for our ingredients. First we went with a layer of caramelized balsamic onions because they’re just really good. I don’t have a recipe for these. I just caramelized onions and added some balsamic vinegar toward the end of cook time. They provided the first layer of our quiche. balsamic caramelized onions

Next came the tomatoes with a layer of fresh basil leaves. These aren’t the tomatoes from our garden since those have all been eaten, but the basil was ours. layering quiche

Then came the slices of fresh mozzarella (we’re lucky this didn’t disappear either, as Miss A is known for devouring a lot of fresh cheese). mozzarella fresh

Finally, it was time for the eggs. We whisked together several eggs with half & half as well as some more chopped basil. This was then poured over the tomatoes and mozzarella, and then seasoned with a spritz of lemon juice, salt and pepper. eggs and cream

The quiche baked for 45 minutes at 350F and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Tomatoes, basil and mozzarella are some of my favorite summer flavors. I knew this would be delicious (at least I hoped it would be). I had high expectations. tomato quiche 2

That said, this meal was somewhat of a risk. While I knew Mr. N was a huge fan of the oat crust, I also know he doesn’t like tomatoes. And while Miss A is happy to snack at tomatoes and mozzarella on their own, she doesn’t much care to combine them (although I think she’ll learn!). mozzarella quiche

The quiche was cooked perfectly. The center was slightly wiggly and it was cooked all the way through. It sliced cleanly and served easily. We enjoyed our quiche with a fresh spinach salad and a piece of homemade rosemary bread. A lovely homemade summer meal. (Especially lovely that it’s finally a homemade meal!) tomato mozz quiche

We tried the quiche both on its own and with a bit of a balsamic reduction. Both were delicious. The tomatoes were juicy. The basil was fresh and peppery, and the onions were sweet and succulent. It was divine. At least for me. It clearly lived up to my expectations and I’m happy to give it a 4 spoon rating. tomato basil quiche

Mike also enjoyed the quiche, but not as much as I did. He felt the onions should have been dispersed more throughout the quiche. So he gave it three spoons. I didn’t have a problem getting a bite of everything on my fork, but I see his point. Still it didn’t alter my vote one bit. Tomato Mozzarella Quiche

Mr. N also gave the quiche a 3 spoon vote. He loved everything about it – except the tomatoes. They were cast to the side. Still the rest of it he seemed to enjoy and even asked for seconds. (Don’t worry, his tomatoes did not go to waste!) birthday girl

Miss A, who is incidentally our birthday girl this week, only gave the quiche 2 spoons. She said that she didn’t mind eating it, but wouldn’t want to eat it again. She did deconstruct her quiche and ate every piece of tomato, mozzarella and crust. The eggs and basil were left behind.

Print this recipe: Tomato Mozzarella Quiche

Tomato Mozzarella Quiche

Not too worry though, Miss A will have her own special birthday recipe coming soon. I think she may even make it herself. She is plotting. She’s even planned her pictures. Definitely a food blogger in the making.

We have another week of more birthday celebrations and plays for both of the children coming up. Miss A has decided that she wants a bit of the stage glory. We’re not yet sure how Mr. N will react to sharing the spotlight, but it’s certain to be entertaining!

Have a wonderful couple weeks. Cheers!

Precious Moments

First a brief update – Mr. N’s show is going very well. His performances blow me away – every time. For those of you that don’t know the story of Medea, Medea is betrayed by her husband Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts fame) and she is filled with rage that culminates in the murdering of her two sons. Mr. N is one of those sons. He plays his role spectacularly and makes me wince and tense each and every time he calls out “Mother!” just before he dies.

medea 2

 

I tell you, even though I know it’s not real, it is not an easy thing to watch. It’s an incredibly well-done show that is thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and powerful. He even had his first review printed in a local stage review. The reviewer said of Mr. N and his stage brother, “…deliver performances that are wise beyond their years as Medea’s children.” He is thrilled.

medea

And today we are off to Miss A’s gymnastics performance. She is all a flutter about it. She’s been dressed and ready to go for hours, and has literally been climbing the walls! I’m not kidding. She has learned how to scale a doorway – and not by feet on either side of the frame – but rather by gripping one side of the door frame like a koala and climbing her way up to to the ceiling. It’s a good thing she has a place to go and get this energy out!

Now back to our French adventure. If you guessed that the kids’ favorite French food was crepes you would be correct! We tried a variety of foods from mussels and macaroons, to cheese and of course chocolate (well, them, not me). As you can imagine, everything was delicious and it’s hard to truly pick a favorite, but the one thing the kids kept coming back to again and again, were crepes. They were fast, available everywhere and the toppings were unlimited. So today we bring you French crepes.

Crepe ingredients

We started by blending together flour, milk, water, eggs, sugar and salt. We let the batter sit at room temperature for about an hour before pouring it a bit at a time into our greased and hot skillet.

blended batter

The crepes cooked for about two-minutes on the first side – waiting until you see the edges brown is crucial so as not to flip too early and make a mess. crepes cooking

We sprinkled a little sugar on either sides as the crepes cooked – just as we watched them do in Paris. While we didn’t have all the fancy crepe equipment the creperies do, our skillets worked just fine. browned crepe

Although smaller than the crepes in Paris, we were still able to fill these with similar ingredients. I never realized how easy these are to make and am surprised we’ve never tried them before. I can guarantee we will be making these again. crepes

We filled our crepes with our favorite ingredients from our trip. For Miss A and Mike that would be Nutella and bananas. For Mr. N and I, it was lemon, honey and cinnamon. We threw on a bit of confectioner’s sugar for good measure as well. nutella and banana

The crepes, not surprisingly were a hit. The kids gave them 3-1/2 spoons. Mike and I came in at 3 spoons. They were good, but not quite as good as in the City of Lights. I mean honestly how could they be! But while our kitchen isn’t in Paris, we are sure to be making these again. Perhaps with savory ingredients for the next go-round. lemon and honey

And as promised here are some more images from our time in Paris. Despite only having three full days and cramming quite a bit of sightseeing into the day, we did manage to find time to lounge about in parks, linger over meals, play at parks, picnic and simply be together as a family with no outside interruptions. It was a precious time.

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We’ll be back soon with highlights and recipes from our next European destination. Have a great week!

Paris in Spring

Well, tonight is the big night for Mr. N. Opening Night. He’s been rehearsing non-stop (with the exception of school) for nearly a week. They are ready. He is ready. I am a bundle of nerves and excitement!picture time

So since we haven’t had the opportunity to be in the kitchen in the past month, I thought today I would share some of our pictures from our recent adventure to the City of Lights, our first stop on our spring break vacation. It seems like only yesterday. The pictures still bring back the wonderful moments and memories of our trip. I can feel the emotions all over again. I hope that never goes away. It was a trip to remember – for each of us. father daughter

The kids did a fabulous job on the overnight flight. They managed to catch about four hours of sleep on the plane, an hour in the taxi and then stayed bright and happy for a 15-hour day of sight-seeing and walking about. Since our flight arrived early in the morning and our apartment wasn’t available until the afternoon, to help with our time change adjustment, we planned a day outdoors and moving. We must have walked four or five miles that day. (Of course, drinking cafe au lait and snacking along the way!) Paris Statues

Since this was Mike and the kids’ first trip to Paris, we planned to see a lot of the renowned tourist spots – the Louvre, the Eiffel, a canal tour (as recommended by Charles), Sacré-Coeur, the Champs-Élysées, Notre Dame, a bus tour of the Paris lights at night (which we all slept through as it was at the end of a long first day) and the Arc de Triomphe. As you can well imagine, I took more than one or two photos. So to simplify this post a bit, here’s a slideshow of our sight-seeing adventures.

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We also managed to still have a lot of time for relaxation, dining and playing. I’ll share those pics in our next post along with a recipe for the kids’ favorite food from Paris. Can you guess?

As for highlights from this beautiful city, well, for Miss A it was the sidewalk games along the Seine as well as parks and gardens. I have to say, she was quite taken with this city, even exclaiming at one point, “I am made for Paris!” At the end of the trip she also noted, “I would go to Paris eight more times. I like it A LOT!” (Not nine more times…just eight.)

Mr. N loved Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel and the gardens as well. My ever-cautious boy, he was a bit concerned by all the scam artists, particularly after witnessing one woman who was aggressively grabbed by the folks that tie a bracelet to your arm. She was definitely scared and in a bit of a panic, which really concerned Mr. N. Mike too, as my ever-gallant husband, actually went to her rescue. Scammers aside (which we explained to Mr. N aren’t limited to Paris and tend to target tourist-heavy areas and how it’s nothing to worry about…just use common sense), Mr. N did enjoy Paris immensely and says he’d go back for sure.

Mike and I, well, how do you choose a highlight in Paris?! The gardens, cafes, the blooming trees (especially since we left snow!) and just about everything that makes Paris one of (if not the) greatest cities in the world, it’s impossible to choose. While we only had three full days in this beautiful city, we have no regrets. We did and saw everything we had hoped and had a glorious time doing it. We are so grateful for having had this opportunity and we won’t soon forget it. Paris at Night