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

Which Way is Up?

As most of you know, we began this blog for two reasons: 1) to expand the kids’ horizons, open their minds and introduce them to other foods and cultures, and 2) to chronicle pieces of our family life, so the kids will always have these stories and memories. So this post, will focus on the life side of things; and it might explain our hiatus.

As we know life is full of ups and downs. First the down – because it must be written, for the kids. 
Charlie

When we returned home from our trip, the day we returned home, we lost Charlie, our 11-year old kitty to a stroke. Needless to say, it is not what we expected to come home to after two weeks of making glorious memories. We had Charlie before the kids were born and have so many wonderful memories with this little, crazy guy. He was quite a personality and always playful. He would even play fetch, complete with bringing the toy back to you. When the kids were babies he would snuggle up next to them and was often found sleeping in Mr. N’s bed. Most of all though, he was my baby and this was a tough loss. Unexpected. Sudden. And too soon. Not to mention after having traveled across an ocean and being awake for more than 24 hours, it was also difficult to process. happy kitty

But, like with anything, time heals. We are all well now – especially the kids. Kids by nature live more in the present moment than us adults, making life’s downs a bit easier to process. Miss A wrote a poem, Mr. N talked it out and we all laughed at our favorite Charlie memory – “Pork Chop Charlie.” This little story happened before the kids were born, but it’s one that they know very well. Charlie loved pork chops. Not fish. Not milk. Not cheese. Only pork. Whenever pork was on the menu, you could be sure Charlie was lingering somewhere nearby.

Anyway, some years ago, Mike and I lived in a small apartment in the city. I was making pork chops, which in and of itself was a big deal as I didn’t cook much back then. I went out of the kitchen for a few moments and left the chops to fry up on the stove. I was only gone for a matter of minutes, but when I returned there was one less pork chop on the skillet. I did a double take and took a quick cursory look around. I was baffled. I had no idea what had become of the chop and was almost questioning my sanity, when I heard nibbling. I glanced over to the corner of the kitchen and there was Charlie and what was left of the pork chop. The little guy, who at the time maybe weighed five pounds, had dragged the chop out of the pan, off of the counter and down to the floor, and across the entire kitchen. From that moment on, we were a lot more vigilant with our pork. So this one is for him: sliced pork

And this one: Portuguese Stuffed Pork Chops

Now for the upside of things. First and foremost, a hearty congrats to ChefDad. After several years at his university and many, many more years of study and research, he received tenure that very same week. It’s a big accomplishment and we couldn’t be more proud of him! We did manage to sneak in a celebratory dinner and had an aged bottle of wine ready to go for the occasion, but sadly, we forgot to take pictures of those. So here is the proud associate professor on our recent adventure. professor

As for Miss A, well, she is her usual little self. Dancing, singing and climbing. She’s getting ready for her gymnastics “Olympics” event and can’t wait. Only a few more weeks to go! climbing

And then there’s Mr. N. He is keeping us quite busy. His latest show is for a theater company in the city. He’s performing in a production of Medea where he will play one of Medea’s two sons. The rehearsal schedule is intense and we’re just now entering tech week. That means 4+ hours a night and an 11-hour day Saturday. (For mom and dad this means lots of travel and sitting quietly in the back of the theater.) I do have to say that this has been an amazing experience for him. He’s learning a great deal and is truly enjoying himself. You can just see how much he loves this. Only one more week until opening night and he’s getting ready…Here’s his before shot: before

And here he is now (and what he’ll look like for the next 6 weeks!): after

He has even made the play-bill. Needless to say, he’s very excited and this has been a lot of fun! Medea

As for me, well, you can imagine everything is keeping me quite busy, but I’ve been having fun going through our pictures. We’ll be back later in the week with the first of our vacation posts. Any guesses where we were (and no chiming in if you already know ;) )? First stop: first city

Second stop: city 2

And final stop: city 3

Writer’s Block

Well, when we left for our spring break adventures, I certainly didn’t intend to take such a long hiatus from the blog. Little did I realize how busy we would get upon our return. I’ll be back in a few days to share our adventures, give a few updates and then we’ll launch into some cooking around the world again. For today, however, I figured I would provide a little flashback to our first year of blogging. You see, I was reminded by Charlie Louie at Hotly Spiced that today is ANZAC Day, a day of remembrance for Australian and New Zealand veterans. She shares a fabulous story of her grandfather in WWII, so in honor of him and all veterans, here’s our ANZAC post from three years ago. Cheers!

 

As promised, we have one more delicious recipe from New Zealand. I think that to-date this has been my favorite cooking destination on this adventure and I know that many of these recipes will become part of our regular rotation. Earlier this week, Mr. N and I baked up these little gems – ANZAC Biscuits.

They are a traditional treat from both Australia and New Zealand and were often sent to soldiers in the Great War; thus the name Australian and New Zealand Army Corp or ANZAC biscuits. The traditional recipe is easy to make and the biscuits last for weeks without perishing. Continue reading

Springing into Action

It’s officially spring; although you would hardly know it. Let’s not even mention the snow that’s coming our way again tonight. Nope…we won’t mention that. Instead we’ll focus on the one thing spring surely brings – spring break! I’m going to keep tonight’s post short and sweet. We’re planning a short little escape soon – just us and the kids. So while we’re busy getting prepared and shuttling Mr. N to and fro, I’m going to quickly share our last Polish recipe for this little adventure. lasagna noodles
Like last week, we’re focusing on another “lazy” take on the pierogi, the homemade dumplings filled with a variety of ingredients. One of the more traditional pierogi recipes features a dumpling stuffed with potatoes, onions and farmer’s cheese, and that’s what we’ve recreated here only in the form of a casserole. Or as I like to call it, a lazy-agna. cheese filling
Yes, I realize lasagna in and of itself isn’t exactly lazy, but I consider it easier than hand-making dumplings. Not to mention, it provides ample leftovers which is key for our schedule during Mr. N’s show. (Perhaps many of you have noticed that I’m absolutely drooling over your dishes these past few weeks as home cooked meals are few and far between right now.)mixing cheese
We found this recipe at About.com and one of my favorite tips was soaking the no-bake noodles for 30 minutes in warm water. I’ve used no-bake lasagna noodles before and I would say about 50% of the time they work fabulously. The other half of the time, some of the noodles don’t cook and I end up with a layer of crunchy pasta. Pre-soaking the noodles, however, did the trick. The pasta cooked to perfection. potatoes
Just like the prep for a traditional lasagna, the filling is prepared first. Ours included mashed potatoes and caramelized onions. Miss A also mixed the cottage cheese with egg and a bit of onion powder, while I shredded some cheddar cheese. caramelizing onions
Mr. N was our potato masher. He found it quite tiring. (Or perhaps it’s his late night rehearsals!) mashing potatoes
Once the cheddar cheese was mixed in with the hot mashed potatoes, we ended up with three mixtures for filling – the mashed potatoes and cheddar cheese; the cottage cheese; and the caramelized onions. cheesy potatoes
The rest is all about the layering. onions
We began with the noodles, added the cottage cheese, followed with the potatoes and then the onions. layering lasagna
And of course that’s followed with another layer of noodles, cottage cheese, potatoes and onions. lasagna steps
Once we reached our top layer, we tossed the remaining onions with a few breadcrumbs before adding them over top, and finished it off with a handful of cheddar cheese. breadcrumbs
We baked the casserole, covered, at 350F for 30 minutes. baking pierogi casserole
After the 30 minutes was up, we uncovered it and baked a final 10 minutes (or until bubbly). pierogi lasagna
We cut and served our lazy-agna immediately, reserving the leftovers in the fridge for the next week. This could also have been frozen and reheated as well. pierogi casserole
The pierogi casserole hit the spot. It was warm, it was filling and it was definitely comfort food. Miss A was in heaven – cottage cheese and mashed potatoes in one dish! It was a 3 spoon dish for her. In fact, this was a 3 spoon dish all around – a solid meal. Mr. N liked it so much, he had seconds and actually enjoyed his leftovers later in the week. pierogi lasagna
Mike and I loved the sharpness of the cheddar cheese and sweetness of the onions. And needless to say, I liked the fact that we could reheat individual servings for our crazy weeknights. pierogi lasagna
Print this recipe: Lazy-agna

polish lasagna

Given our success with both lazy pierogi options, one of these days, I’ll make the real thing. Until then, either the lazy pierogi or the lazy-agna will due perfectly.pierogi casserole dishWe’ll be back in a few weeks to share our latest adventures, and perhaps even a recipe or two. Until then, I’m going to check out for a bit and fully enjoy this year’s spring break with my growing kiddos. Hopefully by the time we return, winter will have officially gone on its break! Have a great start to April everyone!

Child Labor

When Miss A first mentioned that she wanted us to cook recipes from Poland, the first thing that came to my mind was pierogis. Pierogis are dumplings stuffed with cheese and potatoes, sauerkraut, ground meat or fruit. They are similar to ravioli and the Russian pelmeni we made a few years ago. Once boiled they can also be toasted in butter and served with onions, or topped with sour cream.

lazy pierogi ingredients

Pierogis aren’t complicated to make, especially if you’re familiar with making fresh pasta, but they are time-consuming. We were all set to spend the weekend making the little dumplings, but we suddenly have become quite busy again. Mr. N auditioned for a play at a theater company in Chicago this week, and he got the part! It’s a Greek tragedy and he’ll be playing one of two children in the all-adult show. He’ll even have to color his hair for the role (which he is actually very excited about!). The play will run for five or six weeks in May and June for a total 26 shows! You know where we’ll be most weekends. Until then, it’s rehearsal time – and lots of it. I (half) jokingly suggested to Mike that we rent an apartment in the city for a few months to save us on the travel. Really though, we’re thrilled for him. He is so excited and proud of himself (and we are too!).

ricotta pierogi

So with the new schedule, I figured we should probably simplify the recipe and prioritize our to-do list for the weekend. Fortunately I came across the recipe for Lazy Pierogi. I dug a little further and wouldn’t you know it, it’s a real dish! Given the name alone, I knew this was the perfect solution for us. Not only that, it also makes a lot of leftovers for easy meals later in the week.

making pierogi

The recipe is simple – combine ricotta, eggs, salt, butter and flour in a food processor to make a dough. Roll the dough out, slice it, boil it and done. In fact, this recipe is so easy, I took the laziness up a notch and let the kids do all the cooking (with the exception of the boiling and frying). They started by combining the wet ingredients in the processor. Mr. N handled that for us.

processing dough

Miss A was patiently waiting her turn (sampling the flour – I have never known anyone to enjoy dry flour, but she does!). melted butter

Once the wet ingredients were mixed together, Miss A dumped the flour in and processed to form the sticky dough.

sticky dough

We then lightly dusted the counter with flour and the kids began rolling out the dough. They formed 1-1/2″ ropes all while laughing at the amount of flour winding up all over their clothes and floor.

rolling dough

Mr. N thought he looked like a painter with the flour dusted all over his shirt and jeans and Miss A was relishing in the sticky mess between her fingers. This was some serious hands-on fun.

lazy pierogi dough

Then she got the hang of it and loved rolling the “worms.”

dough worms

Next the kids helped to slice the ropes into 2-inch dumplings.

slicing dumplings

The kids each dropped a few of the dumplings into the boiling water, but then it was time for mom to step in. The silliness was reaching peak levels and that’s not such a good mix with a pot of boiling water. boiling dumplings

The dumplings sink upon being dropped in the water, but quickly rise to the top. After they rise it’s another five to seven minutes before they are done.

dumplings draining

Much like real pierogis, lazy pierogis can be served a variety of ways. We opted to toast them in a bit of butter.

toasting pierogi

The kids were so excited about trying our little lazy pierogi. I mean what’s not to love – cheese and butter?! It’s absolutely their kind of pasta.

Polish Lazy Pierogi

Mike and Mr. N also sprinkled a bit of dried dill over theirs for a little added flavor. I’m picky about dill, so I left it off mine and we figured it was in our best interest to not put anything green on Miss A’s.

lazy pierogi

The dumplings were dense, but al dente. They had a light butter flavor with a hint of sweetness from the ricotta. They were a decent 3 spoons for both Mike and I.

toasted lazy pierogi

As for the kids, they enjoyed eating their dumplings almost as much as making them. Mr. N said they were a 4 spoon dish and Miss A insisted that they were 5 spoons – knowing that our top rating is four. If her empty plate was any indication, she loved them.

buttered lazy pierogi

Print this recipe: Lazy Pierogi

So there you have it – the lazy pierogi brought to you entirely by our little sous chefs. It’s a simple recipe that only takes about 30 minutes from prep to table. And as you can see, it’s a fun recipe for the kids to make. Now, if I could just get them to help me clean the kitchen….

Before we move on to our next state night cooking adventure, we have one more Polish recipe to share. We’ll be back next week – hint, it’s another lazy one!

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