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!

Proud Mama

As promised, we have finally returned to an international cooking post. Many of you know we first founded this blog as a way to try new foods and “to open our children up to other cultures around the world.” Well, it appears as though our efforts are paying off. A few weeks into the new school year, Miss A came home very excited that they had another new student in their 1st grade class. eggs and butter

Now anytime a new student arrives there is much excitement, but this particular student had a very unique story. He didn’t just relocate from another area school or even another state. He came all the way from another country! Miss A was beside herself with excitement, “He had to move here on a plane! And he came from really, really far away and he doesn’t know English!” creaming butter

Miss A couldn’t remember where he came from, but she had an idea, “Maybe we could make a recipe from where he lives for the blog!” I was thrilled. Not only did we have our next country from which to cook, but we had a personal reason to learn about another country. Then her eyes got big and you could see the little wheels just spinning top speed and she said, “Maybe we could even make something for my whole class!” Genius. creaming butter two

With approval from her teacher we set about to find a recipe that would feed 24 while still leaving a few on-hand for us. The first task was to learn the new student’s home country. Miss A set about her duty and discovered he flew all the way to our little neck of the woods from Yemen. We then did a little research on the country and consulted the globe. Miss A and Mr. N were very impressed to learn that Yemen is more than 7,500 miles from our home. Talk about a major move! stand mixing

Miss A gathered a few facts to share with her class and wrote them in her journal. We then found the website, Queen of Sheba Yemeni Recipes. I emailed the author and she graciously pointed me to a recipe that would be both easy to make and easy to serve individually wrapped – the Yemeni Ka’ak. Ka’ak is an Arabic word for cake and the Yemeni version of ka’ak is like a cross between a biscuit and a cookie. Some versions feature different flours or the addition of dates, but we went for the basic recipe. yeast bread

Ka’ak is leavened by yeast – one of my worst fears, but fortunately Miss A is much more skilled with yeast than I. We opted to make the recipe using the stand mixer, best not to take chances, I figured. It’s a very basic dough recipe. Easy to follow and relatively quick to make. We made two batches to accommodate the quantity we needed for school. ka'ak dough

All four of us spent the afternoon in the kitchen making these, each having our own role to play in the process. It reminded me of another reason we started this blog, to spend time together in the kitchen learning about new foods, and about each other. We haven’t cooked like this in quite a while, so I’m grateful the day shaped up as it did. The kids are growing too fast! shaping ka'ak

As for the recipe, well, the dough didn’t rise like I expected, but it was not dense either. We were also not quite as skilled at shaping the ka’ak as the Queen, but should you want to try, her video tutorial is an excellent resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmxNw-WpnfI. Overall, I was pleased with how these baked up. rolling dough

They weren’t as pretty as I’d hoped, but I imagine with a little practice that’s a solvable problem. As for cooking with yeast, well, it seemed to do just fine for us this go-round. I completely credit Miss A of course. While I was nervous about the dough’s lack of rising, the ka’ak fluffed up quite nicely in the baking process and had a light, fluffy texture with fabulous looking crumb.egg wash and seeds

Best of all, the ka’ak tasted wonderful! My research suggested that the ka’ak are served on special occasions or with afternoon tea, so I decided to enjoy mine with a cup of lemon grass green tea. It was a lovely complement to the tea and truly special straight from the oven. The ka’ak are light to eat but very filling, and a combination of subtle sweet and savory flavors. sesame seeds

Mike and the kids loved their ka’ak as well; although they skipped the tea. But, do you know what this means? 4 spoons all around! Success! And with a yeast leavened recipe nonetheless. We haven’t had an all-around winner in a while, so this was quite exciting. No one wanted to stop with just one, but we restrained ourselves and packaged them up for Miss A’s classroom. ka'ak

We wrapped 23 ka’ak for the students and teacher, and we packaged five for Miss A’s new Yemeni friend. She thought we should send one for his whole family. I can’t tell you how proud she made me with her thoughtfulness and generosity. While I hate to see them grow so quickly, I do love to see how they are developing into caring, thoughtful people. Again, it’s that bittersweet feeling that comes with being a parent. Yemeni ka'ak

That evening, we printed off 24 copies of the recipe and attached them to each bag. Miss A loaded them into a bag and got her journal ready for sharing with the class. Had you been in her class that day, she would have told you that Yemen is next to Saudi Arabia and two seas. It has mountains and its flag is red, white and black. It is in the Middle East which is part of Asia. Asia is a continent. She was very proud of all that she learned. Arabic cake

The students weren’t allowed to try the treats until they got home and their parents could make that decision. The next day half the class said they tried them and everyone seemed to like them. At least according to Miss A. As for the new Yemeni student, well, Miss A delivered his with a special note attached (which she did on her own). yemen recipe

“I made ka’ak for you and your family. I am giving these to you since you had to leave your home behind and your friends. It would be scary to do that. We made these since the recipe is from Yemen. From your friend, Miss A.” yeast biscuits

I asked Miss A if her Yemeni friend liked the ka’ak. She said, “He doesn’t talk English yet, but he knew what they were. He didn’t say much, but he smiled the whole time.”

To print the recipe click here: Yemeni Ka’ak

Needless to say, I’m a proud Mama. Believe me, my kids aren’t angels and we have our fair share of emotions and challenges around here (daily when it comes to Miss A’s clothing), but that’s what makes these moments all the more precious. Parenthood is bittersweet. It’s exhausting, it’s challenging, it’s tedious, it’s joyous, it’s amazing and it’s enriching. It makes my heart sing and my heart ache. But I wouldn’t trade a single second of it for anything in the world. And while I expected parenthood, much like this blog, to be about teaching my children, I am continually amazed at how both teach me. afternoon tea

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!

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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