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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Birthday Baking

Well, I didn’t realize time was going to get away from me quite to this degree! Since we last posted, Mr. N wrapped up a successful run of his play; Mike traveled to and from Poland; school ended; Nana and Papa came for a visit from Florida; the kids’ camps started and Mike and I celebrated 14 years of marriage.

Most importantly though, we had a week-long birthday celebration for Mr. N who is now in the double digits – 10 years old! (We love our birthdays!) Now admittedly I have not been in the kitchen very often through this busy stretch – at least not to cook anything worth mentioning – but a birthday was not about to go by without some homemade baking. So rather than share more highlights from our last European destination, today we’ve actually got food!

Mr. N’s birthday celebration began with a surprise birthday party with the cast of the play and a karaoke night. He was completely surprised and filled with happiness. I even got an unprompted hug and thank you for one of the greatest nights of his life! karaoke night

Next up was his actually birthday. Unfortunately this also coincided with Mike’s trip to Poland, which Mr. N did not let him forget. Admittedly it was a tough week for Mr. N. Nana and Papa returned to Florida, his show ended, daddy was around the world and school let out for the summer. That’s a lot of goodbyes (and some of them rather difficult) for a little guy within a matter of days. So we needed something to bust through the melancholy. butters

I took a few days off of work and we spent Mr. N’s birthday doing exactly what he wanted to do – playing with the neighbors. We also planned a backyard pizza party and birthday celebration for the night complete with all of his neighborhood friends. Now as is customary, Mr. N requested my Grandma’s cobbler for dessert; however, I know that not all kids are crazy about berries, so we saved the cobbler for the next day. Instead we went with our old stand by – Peanut Butter Bars. dry ingredients

We’ve been making the peanut butter bars for about four years now. They have been a hit with kids and grown-ups alike, and best of all they are easy to whip up. I will warn you though, that if you’re not a fan of peanut butter, these are not for you. I should also warn, that if you’re looking for a lower calorie dessert, these are also not for you. peanut butter mixtuer

The recipe is simple – mix together the butter, peanut butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Next incorporate the flour, salt and baking powder. Then, of course, there is also the mandatory batter sampling. batter

Now, we’re still not done with peanut butter. An entire package of peanut butter chips is also stirred into the mix. peanut butter chip

Half of the batter is then spread over the bottom of a baking dish. This part is a little tricky. As you begin to spread it doesn’t feel like it’s going to go far enough, but it has every time. peanut butter spread

Next is the kids’ favorite part – the chocolate chips! We’ve used dark chocolate and milk chocolate for this recipe and both have gone over well. For Mr. N’s birthday we used milk chocolate since it is likely to go over better with kids. Now, the original recipe on Hershey’s site uses chocolate syrup. It’s another route to go, and it makes a pretty marbled appearance, but we prefer the chips. chocolate chips

Once the chips are sprinkled over (notice I leave a little row plain for me since I’m an odd non-chocolate eater), the rest of the peanut butter mix is spread over the top. peanut butter baking

The bars bake at 350F for about 35 minutes. We usually under cook ours just a bit so that they are nice and soft and chewy. PB brownies

After the bars cool slightly, they are sliced and ready to serve. While these can be served any time, they are especially delightful straight out of the oven. Or in our case, right after a loud and energetic rendition of “Happy Birthday!” birthday boy

The dessert was a hit with most of the kids. We did have one that didn’t really like peanut butter, but we had some gelato available too (no one goes without dessert here!). The adults, on the other hand, did their fair share of devouring the little bars. peanut butter bars

Most importantly Mr. N was happy. He gave the bars 3-1/2 spoons. They still don’t come close to the cobbler though. He could barely wait to the next day to dig into that beauty. peanut butter chocolate bars

Mike and I both give the peanut butter bars 3 spoons. They are chewy and a definite peanut butter indulgence. I also like that they come together so easily and serve lots. That said, I too would rather have the cobbler. cookie bars

Miss A gives them 5 spoons (because 4 is not enough) and likes to make sure she gets a middle piece (who can blame her – they are the most chewy). chewy bars

Miss A’s favorite part of the night though – helping with clean-up. She ran around collecting crepe paper and became the “crepe paper mummy.” (Notice the cobbler cooling on the stove in the background – rather risky of me to leave that lying about with Mr. N on the prowl!) crepe paper mummy

Print this recipe: Peanut Butter Bars

It was a great party and I have to admit it was rather fun to be back in the kitchen again. Hopefully that will start to happen more often. As for the rest of Mr. N’s birthday week…well, we took a little trip to the country where we enjoyed the cobbler, then we took Grammie and BoomBoom to Mr. N’s favorite Italian restaurant because his birthday is not complete without a piece of Rose’s homemade cheesecake.

It was definitely a fun-filled (and dessert-filled) birthday week. I’d like to say that we’ll post again soon, but we have a few summer trips, another summer birthday and more camps starting up. I do have another recipe already queued up, so hopefully I’ll get that to you sooner rather than later. I think we’re also hoping to cook another dish from Poland and a few more from Spain to test our hand at a few favorites we enjoyed on our trips, but until then, I hope you are all enjoying the summer (or winter) season as much as we are right now! Cheers!

Memories of Spain

This is just a brief post to let you know that we haven’t disappeared. Between work, the end of the school year and the play we are…well as a good friend put it, in an intense period at the moment. Wonderful, but intense (and really tiring!). So until things settle down, here are a few images from our next stop on our European adventures this past spring. Barcelona

After Paris, our travels took us by train to Barcelona where we spent three glorious full days sightseeing and eating. We did lots of eating. However, if I had to pick one word to describe our Barcelona experience it would be – Gaudi (Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona’s most famous architect). We first took in his famous church, Sagrada Familia and then the public park, Park Guell. His architecture was instantly a hit with both of the kids who honestly couldn’t get enough. Personally, I had never been a big fan of Gaudi’s work. I had found it rather unnerving and chaotic. That all changed after this trip. We spent hours touring his works, reading books and visiting museums. I have to say I now look at his designs much differently and have found a whole new appreciation for his utter genius. sagrada familia

That said, no one was more taken in by his work than our Miss A. She fell in love with Gaudi’s homes, particularly Casa Mila. During our tour of Casa Mila, or La Pedrera, Miss A was front and center right next to the tour guide listening intently. She didn’t even glance back to look for us – she was completely taken in. At one point during the tour, Miss A walked right up to the tour guide and said, “This is the best grown-up museum I have ever been in. I love it.” After these first few visits, each day of our Barcelona stay included another Gaudi tour. touring

And as I mentioned we ate, a lot. It’s too hard to pick a favorite restaurant. We had at least four amazing sit-down meals that featured everything from paella to snails and jamon Iberico to croquettes. We had tapas, we had sit down meals and we had two wonderful visits to the Boqueria along La Rambla. It was a food paradise! La Boqueria

We all thoroughly enjoyed every moment of our time in this beautiful city. I know we would all love to go back again – especially Miss A. While Mr. N’s favorite city of the trip was Paris, Miss A fell in love with Barcelona. She could have stayed forever I believe. Here’s a few peaks at why, first the Gaudi gallery:

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And then the food and fun:

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Mike and I still can’t really pick our favorite city of the trip. They were all so incredible in their own ways. However, if hard pressed, we would likely answer our next and final destination. It spoke to the two of us in so many ways. It just felt right. We’ll be back soon with highlights of that magical city and then hopefully we’ll finally have time to start cooking again (and something other than quick salads and sandwiches). Until next time, please pardon our absence and know that I will pop back into your blogs as soon as I am able as well. 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!