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

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 Secret is in the Sauce

Well, another busy week is behind us and we’re about to start another one; however, and I hesitate to say this, I think I’m finding a new rhythm. We’re no less busy than we have been for the past six months, but I’ve found a bit of a flow. I mean when is the last time I posted twice in one week!

It’s hard to believe the Chopped Challenge is already several weeks ago now, especially when we’re still enjoying the fruits of our labor. (We still have two pot pies remaining in the freezer!) So speaking of those pot pies, most of you will recall, our main ingredient basket for the big day was brought to us by Vanyadhanya from Skinny Chef de Cuisine and included Garam Masala, Cashews, Pumpkin Seeds and Potatoes. Main Course Basket 2014

It was definitely a close contest between the two dishes – Garam Masala Dumplings and the Vegan Pot Pie with Garam Masala. In fact, if it wasn’t for the secret ingredient Mike had been hiding since we shopped for the event, it would have been a dead heat. Little did I realize he had that little surprise up his sleeve! So what was the thing that put Team Number One over the edge for this round? Well, let’s recap how it all got started first. Miss A and Mike began their dish by boiling the potatoes and creating a sauce using whole garam masala. boiled potatoes

They sauted some shallots and garlic in a skillet before adding two cups of water. Next they placed the garam masala inside a cheesecloth, tied it closed and placed it in the same pot to simmer for almost an hour. garam masala

Next it was time for the cashew cream – a blend of cashews (soaked in water for 12 hours) and almond milk. Cashews

Once the garam masala had simmered long enough, the cheesecloth was removed and tossed. Mike and Miss A then combined the cashew cream with the stock to make a creamy sauce. But they didn’t stop there. They also added a bit of ground garam masala and the secret ingredient – paneer (a fresh Indian cheese). This is when I knew Mr. N and I were in trouble. I LOVE paneer – and Mike certainly knew that!

As the sauce was set aside to keep warm, Team Number Won then combined their boiled potatoes, all-purpose flour and some cilantro in the food processor. making dumplings

From there they scooped out golf ball sized pieces and formed little round dumplings. The dumplings were dropped in boiling water and cooked until they floated to the top. Rolling dumplings

Next Miss A and Mike rolled the dumplings (still wet and somewhat sticky) in chickpea flour and then placed them into hot oil to deep fry. The dumplings were fried to a golden brown and then drained. Once drained, the dumplings were served immediately with the garam masala-paneer sauce. garam masala dumplings

The dish was fantastic! The flavors were so warm and comforting. It was easily a 4 spoon dish for Mike, Miss A and I. Mr. N, however, preferred the pot pie. In all honesty, Mike and I likely would have given both main course dishes 4 spoons had we enjoyed them on separate occasions, but that secret ingredient was just too good to look past, and it was a competition after all!deep fried dumpling

Print this recipe: Garam Masala Dumplings

So since the pot pie met with rave reviews from each of us as well, we thought we’d share this recipe with you all too. It’s vegan, filled with bold flavors and very comforting! Not to mention, you can make plenty to have for a meal another day.

Print this recipe: Vegan Pot Pie

Next week we’ll be back with our final entry from this year’s Chopped Challenge – the dessert round. After that we’re setting off around the world on another cooking adventure (from our own kitchen that is). Have a great week everyone!