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

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!

Staying Warm and Toasty

As many of you know, the Midwest has been experiencing a very cold and snowy winter. As of today we’ve had 20 days with below O degree (F) temperatures. Six more days and we’ll beat a record from sometime in the 1800′s. Frankly, that’s a record I’m not interested in beating. I don’t mind the snow, but honestly, it’s hard to enjoy it when it’s minus nine outside. Fortunately, we have managed to get our fair share of sledding in this winter which always makes us happy.

So let’s talk about something warm and toasty. Even if it’s summer in your neck of the woods, this dish would make a fun appetizer. It’s our Toasted Bacon and Apple Tortellini from Super Sunday’s Chopped Challenge. I’m going to get right down to business, as I hope to post all the winning recipes from the challenge in a timely manner.Then we can get back to cooking around the world. Thanks again to everyone that followed along that day. We had a lot of fun and have finally recovered (we didn’t want to be in the kitchen for a few days after that marathon!). So now on to the winning appetizer.

This basket came to us from our very own little sous chefs, Mr. N and Miss A. They very much thank you for their votes. They were quite excited! Mike and I on the other hand were a bit puzzled what to do with tortellini for an appetizer, but the kids had some fabulous ideas. Miss A instantly had a pasta salad in mind. Mr. N knew we had to stuff the tortellini with bacon. So that’s how we began. Appetizer Basket Ingredients 2014

For our homemade tortellini we referred to Chicago John’s tutorial on using won ton wrappers for the dough. (Glad I remembered that one!) stuffing tortellini

For the filling we added ricotta, basil, apple, bacon, an egg, Romano and salt and pepper to the food processor. We filled each won ton before carefully shaping them into tortellini. making tortellini

Mr. N really enjoyed making the tortellini. Even Miss A asked if she could make a few, which concerned Mr. N for a moment as he was suspicious of sabotage from the other team. Ultimately he let her try her hand at pasta making as well. won ton tortellini

Now came the fun part. I reminded Mr. N of the Toasted Ravioli we made a long, long time ago to represent Missouri and St. Louis. I suggested we deep fry our little tortellini to make them feel more appetizer-like. Well, one mention of the words “deep fry” and he was in complete agreement. So after cooking the tortellini we dredged them in flour, egg and panko before deep frying them to a crisp, golden brown. toasted tortellini

The only thing left was to come up with a sauce. Since we used a filling with apple and bacon, we thought a sweeter cream sauce was in order. We combined mascarpone, cashew cream and white wine in a small sauce pot before heating it over a low flame until it was blended, nice and creamy. You could easily use heavy whipping cream in place of the cashew cream, but if you’re so inspired, it was delicious. There are an abundance of cashew cream recipes out there, but we used a simple blend of raw, unsalted cashews (soaked in water), lemon juice, vegetable stock and a little bit of almond milk. Just toss it into a food processor and run until smooth and creamy. mascarpone and cashew cream sauce

So there you have it, team Cleaver’s Toasted Bacon & Apple Tortellini. It was 4 spoons for both Mr. N and Miss A, and 3 spoons from the grown-ups. While these were quite tasty, I’m not sure we’ll make them again. They are rather involved and frankly I prefer my tortellini as a main course with a nice light creamy mushroom sauce (fortunately we have a bunch saved in the freezer that didn’t make it to the frying stage). Not to mention if we’re going to deep fry, there are quite a number of foods I’d rather splurge on before these; but a winner is a winner. It was definitely a lot of fun to make and great to have both kids so active in the kitchen this year. This has become quite the “sporting event” around here this time of year!

Print this recipe: Toasted Apple and Bacon Tortellini

Now before I sign-off, I’ll give you a brief run down on the competition’s dish. After all it was completely the brainchild of our little Miss A (who recently got all dolled up for the annual daddy daughter dance). daddy daughter dance

The salad started with a bed of Romain lettuce which was topped with the cooked four-cheese tortellini, apple slices, pear slices, bacon crumbles, fresh basil and peanuts. The salad was dressed with an Asian-inspired dressing of sesame oil and ume plum vinegar. The sauce and peanuts weren’t the biggest hit, so we recommend a different choice of nut – walnut or pecan perhaps – and going with either less sesame oil, or another more subtle oil. The salad was served cold and was pretty good (but take our recommendations for adjustments into account).Tortellini Salad

Have a great week everyone! We’ll be back soon with our winning main course recipe. In the meantime, aren’t they just too cute?! If someone figures out how to stop time and keep these little ones from growing up so fast – please let me know. ;) dance night