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

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